Summer at Asian Arts Initiative

IMG_4817This summer I’m interning at Asian Arts Initiative, which is an arts non-profit located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown North. One of the many things that that means is that my lunch breaks are awesome. Days when I forget to bring my already-packed, budget-friendly lunches from home are days I get to try a new restaurant. In the picture above you can see my banh mi and chrysanthemum tea in the moments before I devoured them, purchased from a fantastic little shop (though the client base in there that day did bring a certain word to mind…hint: the word is gentrification). I’ve also been scoping out all the boba tea shops in the area (somehow it seems like I’ve never sampled quite enough to settle on a favorite…). At the end of the day I stop into one of the numerous little markets to pick up some groceries.

The only downside for me is the lack of Korean food in the area, though you know, it being Chinatown I can’t really complain. After one day dragging my sad Korean feet from market to market in pursuit of sesame leaves (which I guess are just a Korean thing?), I realized I would have to return to Upper Darby and the land of H-Mart for a few of my grocery staples. (Though I did find a Chinatown market that sells kimchee, so not all is lost!)

If you have any suggestions of places to check out in Chinatown, let me know! I might just have to forget to pack a lunch a little more often.

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The Wanamakers and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

This summer I am working at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). The Historical Society has been working on a website called for a while now. The website provides an interactive map of Philadelphia with stories about the people, groups, and buildings that have impacted the community. This includes everything from the Free African Society to Reading Terminal Market. The long-term goal is to flush out the map with significant sites so that residents and tourists alike can read about the history of the city. Personally, my favorite part of knowing history is knowing how the past has shaped the present community around me. My work at HSP has helped me understand the history behind the Macy’s building, which I pass everyday on my way to work.

Oak Hall with Portraits of John Wanamaker and Nathan Brown from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Oak Hall with Portraits of John Wanamaker and Nathan Brown from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The building originally housed the first Wanamaker’s department store. The store started as Oak Hall, a clothing store for men and boys, opened by John Wanamaker and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown. The store was successful due to its revolutionizing business practices. This included getting rid of haggling over price and letting customers return goods. The store was known for its honesty, mostly because John Wanamaker was well respected in the religious community. Interestingly, there were still discounts for people like ministers, meaning he was not completely honest about there being only one price for all goods.
Wanamaker's Department Store from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Wanamaker’s Department Store from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Once the store became more successful it was moved to the location where Macy’s now stands. The store was built to create the ideal shopping experience for women. There was a restaurant and seats so shoppers could take a break. However, what is most notable is what Wanamaker’s did for the employees. Hotel Rodman was set up as a place for female employees to live and he created a school to educate workers in the business as well as topics like reading and hygiene. At the same time, Wanamaker did not let workers unionize and often had them working long days.
The Wanamaker Organ from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The Wanamaker Organ from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The building itself is also very noteworthy. It was built in three parts, ending in 1910. The dedication was attended by President Taft and boasts the only president to be at a department store opening. It is also home to the world’s largest organ with over 28,000 pipes. The organ was bought during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and was brought over in thirteen freight cars.
John Wanamaker in 1911 from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

John Wanamaker in 1911 from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Most surprising to me was the impact John Wanamaker had on the country. President Harrison appointed him Postmaster General. In office he ended Sunday deliveries and created the first commemorative stamp. He also pushed for rural deliveries. Within Philadelphia he ran a Sunday school and church that was responsible for many outreach programs.
It was great to research the Wanamaker family because of the influence they had on Philadelphia, but also because HSP is home to the John Wanamaker Collection. This means I have been able handle correspondence between John Wanamaker and his family as well as photographs of the store. It is really fascinating to learn about such an influential family. Now every time I pass the building, I think about how grand a twelve-story department store must have been over a hundred years ago. I am very excited to continue in depth research on other historically significant people and groups this summer.
Check out the full series of stories on the Wanamakers on
- Claire Michel ‘18

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The Female Physician: a Deviation from 19th-Century Gender Roles?

Illustration from Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities (Hartford, 1870).

Illustration from Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities (Hartford, 1870).

This 19th-century image of a lone female physician making a heroic midnight visit seems out of context for a time in which the majority of women worked inside the home cooking, cleaning, and raising children.  However, it illustrated a book by a male writer who supported traditional conceptions of gender.  In his 1870 publication, Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities, Linus P. Brockett argues that despite dangers like “midnight rides in dark nights and over rough roads,” the more delicate and nurturing qualities of women, especially their “tact…skill…[and]…knowledge how to manage…a child, which seems almost intuitive [to them],” gave women the potential to be excellent physicians (160-165).

For one of my two projects at the Library Company of Philadelphia this summer, I’m looking for images of 19th-century American women that could be used as tools for teaching students American history. I’ve learned that even when women did venture outside of their homes, they could not escape the conceptions of domesticity and sentimentality that characterized them in their private lives.  These conceptions shape both Linus P. Brockett’s arguments for and reservations against female physicians.  Brockett explains that women’s domestic experience and sentimental capabilities would give them a leg up providing comfort to the sick and undertaking pediatric care. At the same time, he expresses the fear that female physicians might neglect their own motherly duties and that their sentimentality might make them ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities traveling physicians would face (Brockett 158-166).  From the debate over their role in temperance movements to the debate over their work with benevolent organizations like orphan asylums, the conversation by male writers about women’s role outside of the home often involved arguments formulated around women’s domestic qualities.

My work selecting images is the first step in creating the Making, Maintaining, and Mending: Women’s Work in Early American Homes project.  With the project, Connie King, the curator of Women’s History at the Library Company, hopes to give students a different starting point for thinking about the themes taught in American history courses. In addition to the Women’s History project, my primary project is to continue cataloging the Library Company’s Raymond J. Holstein stereograph collection.  This collection consists of approximately 2,000 stereographs, late 19th-century and early 20th-century photographs compatible with a 3D viewing system, mainly of buildings, events, and organizations from the Philadelphia area.  As I discover modern Philadelphia through my first experience working in the city this summer, I’m also discovering the history of the city through working with the Holstein Stereographs.  Stay tuned for a post on stereographs!

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Colonial Valley Zapotec Documents in the Ticha Project

Below is an example of 15th-century English writing from The University of Manchester Library Image Collections.

The University of Manchester Image Collections, English MS 94, 158r.

Twelve profytes of tribulacioun.  The University of Manchester Library.  Rylands Collection.  English MS 94 (Miscellanea), page 158r.  Image Courtesy of The University of Manchester Library Image Collections.

Pretty hard to read, right?  If you’ve never looked at medieval handwriting before, you might not be able to recognize all of the letters.  The Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse has a transcribed version of the same text, although it’s from a different book — it’s still hard to read, but you can probably understand some of the words.

Now imagine that you’ve never seen English written in a book before.  Imagine that you didn’t know until just now that there are English books from the 15th century.  Imagine that in order to see this book you had to go to an archive, walk past an armed guard who tried to keep you out, and then sort through four boxes of documents until you found the right one.  And you still probably wouldn’t be able to read it.

For the past few years I’ve been an RA on the Ticha Project with Professor Brook Lillehaugen.  Ticha is an online text database, like The University of Manchester Library Image Collections, but for documents written in Colonial Valley Zapotec.  The Zapotec languages are indigenous to southern Mexico.  Most Zapotec languages today are purely oral; Zapotec is not used in schools, and some people believe that it cannot be written because (they say) it isn’t a “real” language.  However, the Zapotec culture has one of the longest histories of writing in Mesoamerica (dating back to a couple hundred years B.C.), and Zapotec was also written in the Roman orthography after the Spanish conquest.  The documents in the Ticha Project (like the one shown below) were written in the 16th- through 18th-centuries in Colonial Valley Zapotec, which was spoken in the valleys to the east and south of Oaxaca City.  The documents are mostly wills, bills of sale, and other legal documents.  There is also a dictionary and grammar of Colonial Valley Zapotec written by a Dominican priest in 1578.

Complaint from Santo Domingo del Valle.  Archivo Histórico de Tlacolula de Matamoros Oaxaca.  Caja 5 Justicia 1720-1780, Justicia 1725 T5, page 25r.  Image Courtesy of the Ticha Project.

Complaint from Santo Domingo del Valle. Archivo Histórico de Tlacolula de Matamoros Oaxaca. Caja 5 Justicia 1720-1780, Justicia 1725 T5, page 25r. Image Courtesy of the Ticha Project.  Thank you to the town council of Tlacolula de Matamoros for authorizing the consultation of documents at the historical municipal archive.

Unfortunately, these historical documents are mostly inaccessible to the Zapotec people.  They are very difficult to read, even for native speakers of modern Zapotec (remember the 15th century English you tried to read above?), and are kept in archives which are difficult to access.  The Ticha Project makes Colonial Valley Zapotec documents available to the general public — including the Zapotec people — online, along with transcriptions and translations so that they can be easily read and understood.

Translation of Testament from San Pedro el Alto, 1764 on the Ticha Project website (July 2015).

Translation of Testament from San Pedro el Alto, 1764 on the Ticha Project website (July 2015).

–May Plumb ’16

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The Death Strip

The Berlin Wall was much more than a wall.

That’s as true literally as it is figuratively. Yes, of course, it was, as the closest thing to a physical incarnation of the Iron Curtain, a symbol of Cold War division and authoritarianism. But the wall was only one part of the Berlin Wall.

Actually, the Berliner Mauer, as it is called in German, was a vast and complex apparatus. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR) began surrounding West Berlin first with barbed wire and then with stone in 1961, calling the project an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.” The “fascists” here, of course, were West Berlin, West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, or FRD, which West Berlin was not technically part of), and the Western occupation forces, all of whom the GDR would keep at bay by surrounding West Berlin with the Rampart. Despite the name, and despite the fact that it was West Berlin that the Mauer surrounded, it was really built to keep East Germans in East Germany. Starting soon after the Allies divided Germany into four Occupation Zones in the summer of 1945, large numbers of those in the Russian Zone—which would evolve into the GDR—began poring into the West. Particularly concerning for GDR officials, as time went on, was the brain drain: the doctors, scientists, academics, artists, and professionals who escaped through the porous border. The Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart would put an end to that.

To achieve this, the GDR could not simply put up a slab of bricks. This infographic, from the New York Times, does a nice job of showing how complex a system the Berlin Wall was:


There were, in fact, two walls: a 20-foot wall inner wall, on the West Berlin side, and a shorter back wall. Between them was a militarized strip of land with anti-tank “Czech hedgehogs,” beds of nails, electrified fences, and guard towers with armed guards who would, and did, shoot; over one hundred attempted escapees had been killed while fleeing by the time the Wall came down in 1989. (136 is the number that appears most frequently.) This space between the walls was called the Death Strip.

It is here, on a piece of the former Death Strip, that Mauerpark, where I am spending my summer, lies today. Mauerpark is not an official memorial to the Wall—for that, you must walk a couple blocks down Bernauer Straße.

Mauerpark presents a very different way of memorializing such a site. It’s best known for the events it hosts every Sunday in the summer—a flea market with food stands; karaoke; street musicians, jugglers, dancers. While most days it does not receive the many thousands of visitors that it does on Sundays, it is always a central location for an alternative Berlin culture, and for an alternative way of doing public commemoration. While the park itself was planned—it was designed by landscape architect Gustav Lange—the ways people use it are largely organic. Mauerpark is not beautiful, but it is one of the most vibrant places I’ve ever been: one gets the sense that the carefree nature of life in Mauerpark is almost a consciously political choice: living in defiance of the wall that once stood. (Indeed, a piece of the rear wall still stands; despite being an official historical landmark, it is allowed to be covered in graffiti.) A site of death and division is now one of life and unity.

I’m indebted to Alex Puell, who I am working with this summer, for framing a discussion of the park’s history with these categories: death and division, life and unity. What work is being done by a memorial that only emphasizes the former pair? What does in mean, in contrast, for remembering to be a lively act?

In later posts I will talk much more about the park in its current form, about the group I’m working with, called Friends of Mauerpark, and about what exactly I’m up to here. But I wanted to begin with these historical questions, which are what drew my in in the first place.

I’d also like to thank the Friends of Mauerpark (especially Alex Puell and Chris Charlesworth) for hosting me this summer; Paul Farber for setting up the internship and giving me essential guidance; the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities (especially Emily Cronin and James Weissinger); and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (especially Chloe Tucker). The internship is made possible through very generous joint funding from the HCAH and the CPGC – for which I am particularly grateful, since I graduated in May and had never imagined I could get funding even though I am no longer a student at Haverford College.

In our next installment, I’ll take us way back to the spring of 2014, when I first fell in love with the park.


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Geoffrey of Monmouth- History or Fiction?

From the 13th Century Morgan Picture Bible. It has nothing to do with my research, but it’s one of my favorite manuscripts. From

This summer, I’m researching the ways that history was created and used politically in 12th-century England. Pretty exciting, right? Don’t worry, it’s less dry than it sounds. In this post, I’ll talk a little bit about the main text that I’ve been working with: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

Writing sometime between 1136 and 1138, Geoffrey presented his work as a historical account of the lives of ninety-nine British kings, translated from material that he found in an ancient book. Geoffrey tells a very compelling story, and Michael Faletra’s translation is top notch. The problem? Very little of the material in the History is remotely close to what we now consider factual. It reads more like a work of imaginative fantasy than a history book.

Inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as Bede, Nennius, and Gildas, Geoffrey creates an elaborate history for the British people (these days we might call them Celtic peoples- the ancestors of the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons). He begins with the fall of Troy, describing how Aeneas’ grandson, Brutus, brought a group of Trojans to Britain, defeated the giants who lived there, and settled down. From there, the History is a wild ride- there are more wars with giants, magic, prophecies, and multiple British kings who conquer Rome and become emperors.

Where Geoffrey really shines is his tale of King Arthur. The History of the Kings of Britain is the first text in which the Arthurian legend really appeared in its present form, and it’s a great account. Arthur unites the Britons, conquers Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, Gaul, and Rome (essentially the known world), sets up a grand court at Caerleon, and is eventually brought low by Guinevere’s infidelity and the treacherous Mordred. After Arthur’s death, the Britons’ last hope is gone and they are doomed to fade into obscurity. A good number of the classic Arthurian characters are there- besides the aforementioned Guinevere and Mordred, Merlin makes an appearance, as do Sir Gawain, Sir Kay, and Sir Bedivere. The History started the medieval craze for King Arthur and his knights, inspiring French romancers like Chrétien de Troyes, who added Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail and Lancelot’s story to the mix.

Knights Jousting from the Manesse Codex. Again not related to my research, but another great set of illuminations. Wikimedia Commons.

To modern historians, Geoffrey’s History is obviously legendary. One of the fun parts about medieval history, however, is that medieval writers frequently didn’t concern themselves with the distinction between fact and fiction. The fact that Geoffrey cited unquestionably reputable sources (Bede, especially) was enough for most scholars to accept his account as truth.

So I’ve had the chance to look into a lot of interesting questions over the course of this project: What is fiction and why do we differentiate it from ‘history’? Why did medieval scholars approach the world differently than we do? How can we use the blurred distinction between history and fiction to better understand social and political life in the Middle Ages?

Those may be questions for a different blog post, but I’ll leave you with a thought. (Kind of a long thought- bear with me…) Going into this project, I wasn’t sure if the studying the Middle Ages had much value for individuals and institutions. The 1130s were an awfully long time ago, and don’t provide the most fruitful ground for the sort of identity-politics/postcolonial/not-white-people history that’s popular today. So why should we study the medieval period at all?

Looking at Geoffrey of Monmouth provides one good reason. His is very much an invented history: Fiona Tolhurst argues quite convincingly that his ‘British’ history was intended to provide a sense of historical legitimacy to the newly powerful Norman kings after their invasion of England in 1066. By presenting his invention as history, Geoffrey lends a sense of legitimacy to William the Conqueror’s power grab and therefore to his successors’ rights to the throne.

So here’s something to think about, especially with the 4th of July right around the corner: are there parts of our own history where an invented narrative provides legitimacy to an otherwise questionable action? Why are stories of black men fighting for the Confederacy used to excuse the South’s racism? How did speculation about the explosion of the USS Maine contribute to the Spanish-American war? How do people use the supposed intentions of the Founding Fathers to justify practically anything? (Examples: For gun control, against gun control). You get the point- the creation of myth was not limited to the Middle Ages. The questions that Geoffrey brings up about the divide between history and fiction and the political nature of stories have many applications today.

Anyway, I find the research interesting and really appreciate the Hurford Center’s willingness to fund it. If you ever get a chance to read Geoffrey of Monmouth, you might be pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and thought provoking medieval literature can be.

–William Ristow ’16

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Summer at CFG

Two unchanging rules of gallery exhibits: 1. Every show will have its own big or small problems 2. All problems will eventually be fixed and the show will open!

Hi, I’m Kelly, and I am working as the intern for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery this summer. Though I already work at CFG during the school year, I decided to stay in order to gain a more in depth experience of aspects of gallery work, especially in understanding how a show is built conceptually. First, let me introduce CFG a bit: there are five shows every year, each of them relating to Haverford’s curriculum in one way or another, and the final show featuring the fine arts seniors of Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Working at CFG has allowed art to be a constant presence in my college life, whether it is through talking to visitors about Adrian Blackwell’s sculpture, hanging art work during installation periods, or even just standing at openings and observing other visitors interact with the art work.

My first task as a gallery summer assistant was to help set up for the alumni weekend show, which was a small open house for the HCAH and a showcase of the new VCAM (Visual Culture, Arts and Media) space that will be replacing Ryan Gym. The show consisted of different posters for the HCAH events, a boat made during the boat making workshop in May, part of the American Rubble show recreated, and videos of a couple student documentaries, as well as interviews with past CFG collaborators. At first, it all sounded pretty simple – just set up the videos, pin up some photos and posters and furnish the lounge area that had moved inside the gallery – but I was completely wrong. Matthew (my boss) and I first faced our problem when we realized we did not have the proper pins to put up the HCAH posters; to solve this we drove all the way into Philly and bought pins. This speaks to the nature of gallery work – everything needs to be precise and as perfect as possible, because even small details such as a pin can change the viewer’s experience in the gallery. Then, putting the posters up in a grid itself was another challenge since the posters were different in size and did not make up a perfect grid (gallery work always requires so much more math than you would ever anticipate). It took almost four hours to put up eight rows of posters. Aside from this incident of putting up posters, we faced many other difficulties, such as sounds in the video rooms bleeding into one another and vinyl bubbling up, just to name a few. However, when the doors opened on Friday, many alumni, students and staff walked in, curious about the displays, asking questions and looking carefully at the walls or watching the videos in the rooms. Sitting at the front desk, I was once again reminded why I chose to spend my summer in this gallery. I love watching people in this space, thinking and talking about art, and I feel proud that I was a part of constructing the space for such dialogues. Furthermore, no matter what problem comes up, whether it is labels falling off the wall or missing pins, I am taught to fix situations and make the best out of what is there.

Image by Lisa Boughter

Image by Lisa Boughter

Image by Lisa Boughter

Image by Lisa Boughter

So far, my CFG summer has been very colorful and diverse; it’s a good mixture of hard labor and deskwork, skype meetings and field trips. Since we took down the show for the alumni weekend, I have spent time thinking about interactive programming ideas to get more members of the community, especially students, to visit the gallery and engage in art. I’ve tinkered with our styrofoam gallery model, brainstorming new layout ideas and rendering them for next year’s shows, been in a couple of meetings with curators, helped out in the deconstruction of the monument lab at City Hall, and have been reading and thinking about the new shows that will be in the CFG next year. I plan to return back to this blog with more exciting news about next year’s shows, as well as updates on my adventures with Matt!

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Teaching Visual and Linguistic Literacy at SAAM

This summer, I am interning with the Education Department at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I am especially helping with a professional development program called Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art. It is a weeklong program that seeks to provide teachers from around the country with the tools they need to incorporate art in their social studies and English/language arts classrooms.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum. I know these photos are pretty glamorous, and that’s because I got them from the website. This is a view of one of the entrances. The sky looks pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

This program is interesting to me because it encourages both a visual and a linguistic literacy, emphasizing the parallels between the two. In my personal experience in academia, writing a good paper has been privileged above such skills as interpreting symbols in a photograph or analyzing materials and texture in a sculpture.

Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian American Art Museum. This courtyard used to be outdoor before a series of major renovations in the early 2000s. Now, it is a beautiful indoor courtyard, perfect for lunch breaks (shameless promotion). Fun fact: The patterned, wavy glass roof isn’t actually touching the original building. It was designed by architects Foster+Partners in London especially so that the weight wouldn’t compromise the building structure. It still keeps rain and snow out, though. I’m not really sure how that works, but it does.

Oftentimes, a person’s intelligence or intellectual capability are judged by the words he or she can understand and the words with which he or she chooses to express him or herself. That’s just not fair, especially today, because though we are surrounded by words, we are also surrounded by visual stimuli. Whether you are viewing a political cartoon, a crime scene, or your friends’ facial expressions, knowing how to read the visuals surrounding you is just as important as knowing how to read the words. That’s why I like this Institute, I think. It teaches teachers how to incorporate and connect visual and linguistic literacies to reach out to a variety of learners and to empower students to be curious and thoughtful about the world around them in different ways.

Lincoln Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lincoln Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum. This is one of my favorite galleries in the museum. It is the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery. It houses a wide variety of works from the late 20th Century to today: works by Nam June Paik, Alexander Calder, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Kerry James Marshall, Sol LeWitt, Nick Cave, and so so so many more. I am loving learning about so many amazing artists and artworks.

Have a great day.

-Courtney Carter, 17

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The Process of Cultural Mapping


Avenue of the States- the proposed thoroughfare for the Chester Cultural Corridor

Over the past few weeks, I have frequently visited Chester and the surrounding area. The city of Chester is situated on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Wilmington. Once the commercial and industrial hub of Delaware County, the decline of heavy industry in the region has caused prolonged urban flight.  In the last 60 years, the population has dwindled from its peak of 66,000 in 1950 to 34,000 today. Yet in the past few years, local residents and the city of Chester have looked at ways to recognize the thriving arts and culture scene in Chester as an opportunity to highlight the region’s cultural assets to visitors and residents alike. Artists like Ethel Waters and Bill Haley lived in Chester and today it is home to many grassroots art, theater, and dance groups. To emphasize the region’s cultural vitality, the Chester Cultural Corridor was envisioned, which sought funding for an innovative city planning initiative to bring arts to the forefront of downtown Chester.

chester made ensemble

Chester Made Ensemble

Yet before any future plans could be discussed regarding land use and city planning, a project called “Chester Made” was developed in order to construct a cultural map listing places of existing and historic artistic and cultural significance to help inform and assist promoters of a downtown arts and culture district. This summer, one of the projects that I have been working on as an intern with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is the production of such a cultural map. The catch with the development of such a map was that every data point and location placed on it needed to be identified by local residents in order to best represent the community’s valuation of local heritage sites and organizations. To integrate the community into future place-making initiatives, eight story gathering sessions were held earlier in the year where hundreds of residents shared their experiences of arts and culture in Chester. These were directed by an ensemble who directed the sessions in theater-based gatherings.

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Snapshot of the Cultural Asset Map

The result? After combing through the transcriptions to identify all the places that came up during the group interviews and pinpointing their locations, a map began to emerge. Using Esri, an online mapping software platform, over a hundred heritage sites, organizations, cultural industries, and events have so far been placed on the map on an online portal ( I’ve cooperated a lot with the city planning department to get the online map up.

The website is an ongoing project that is crowd-sourced, so we’ll receive more feedback on it once we unveil it to local residents. There will be a few events in Chester to help present the map through the summer, so more updates are coming…

Kevin Jin ’17

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Lettres de cachet and Eighteenth Century Crime

I am here in Paris for the summer, assisting Professor Graham with her research on debauchery in eighteenth century France. She is writing a book, Debauchery and Enlightenment in Eighteenth Century France, that looks at debauchery from a variety of different angles. As her assistant last summer, I read eighteenth century books on women’s physiology, treatises about women and morality, biographies of Louis XV’s mistresses, and legal texts, all of which offered different perspectives on moral crime. This summer, I am working at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris, to learn more about debauchery from lettres de cachet.

Lettres de cachet were letters signed by the king that allowed a suspect to be imprisoned without any legal process. Farge & Foucault explain how the system of lettres de cachet served as a way to avoid the judicial system, which was inefficient and impossible. They also argue that this system worked to the advantage of the families, the king, and the police: family honor was maintained, as was public order. The two were closely related. (By the end of the eighteenth century, lettres de cachet were associated with oppression, tyranny, and arbitrary monarchal rule).

The Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal is located in a 17th century building near the site of the former Bastille prison. The Arsenal became a library during the French Revolution on 9 floréal An V (the revolutionary calendar equivalent of April 28, 1797). (The building is beautiful and historic, but unfortunately this means it is not air-conditioned!)

In Le désordre des familles, Farge & Foucault describe their study of lettres de cachet at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in the early 1980s. “We were [...] struck by the fact that, in many cases, these demands were made about private family matters: small conflicts between parents and children, domestic discord, misconduct of one of the spouses, disorder of a boy or girl. […] despite the incomplete character of these archives, we often found, around a demand for imprisonment, a whole series of other pieces: attestations of neighbors, of the family, or of the relatives, inquiries from commissaires de police, decisions of the king, demands for liberty from those who were the victims of the internment or even from those who had made the demands” (p. 7-8). These documents, which exist only in microfilm/manuscript form at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, are at times incomplete, hard to read, and confusing, but they are also interesting, illuminating, and surprising. My job is to read through a selective sample of these files (all of the documents from the year 1741) and record important information into about 20 different categories in a spreadsheet, so that Professor Graham can study and sort the information, as a sort of mini-database. Some of these categories are straightforward–age, job, date of arrest, etc., while others are freer, more nuanced, or more challenging–transcriptions of passages relating to debauchery, labels for different crime categories, and so on. Débauche comes up frequently in the letters, and, as Farge & Foucault point out, it is used vaguely (p. 37) and in association with other crimes. However, it consistently has to do with a public, and therefore disordering behavior. This constitutes a sort of moral crime in ancien régime Paris.

My workstation at the library.

My workstation at the library.

The other night I was picking up some things at Monoprix, and an extremely drunk man was in the line, loudly shouting, joking around, and trying to cut the line. I was struck by the thought that in the eighteenth century, he could be imprisoned if I wrote a letter to the police and had it signed by the other people in the store. Thinking about how lettres de cachet could be used today makes it easier to imagine how they functioned in the eighteenth century, and some of the letters are vivid enough to evoke this sense of reality and relevance.

Aside from my library work, I am enjoying being in Paris. I was happy to get to see (and run with!) Rebecca Fisher and Evan Hamilton last week. I am very grateful to the Hurford Center and the Louis Green Fund for their generous support.

-Charlotte Lellman, ’15

*Arlette Farge & Michel Foucault, Le désordre des familles, Gallimard, 1982. The translations are mine.

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