why education is important: sentimentalism and other shenanigans

Do you know that feeling when you’re running around for a whole day, and when you finally sit down on your couch at home, you realize that you’ve actually been running around for about two months straight?

Yes, I’m happy to say that was me this summer at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I’m also happy to say that this pace didn’t cause my time at SAAM to skim by in a superficial way, but very much the opposite. My time was so chock full of different experiences that it will take me a while to unwind them all out. I’m going to work on just one knot right now–a way to articulate why education is important.

Education has always been a presence in my life. Besides the few years when I didn’t know what I was doing (specifically ages 0-3), I’ve never not been a student. But since working with the Education Department at SAAM on several projects, the main one being a professional development program for teachers called Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities Through Art, I have really tried to put words to how education has played a significant role in my own life and the impact it can have on others. So here it goes:

Education is important because it provides the tools people need to become their own educators. It creates citizens of the world who are curious and who care about the world and its people. It empowers people to know and believe that their voice is valid, but that silence is important sometimes too. It challenges people to challenge themselves–to stretch who they are, what they know, what they feel, and what they believe–in order to grow in the directions they want to go.

I’ll probably think of more reasons and more edits as soon as I post this, but for now I think that’s all I really want to say.

Courtney Carter ’17

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Mass Media and the Rhetoric of Technological Progress

Not that long ago Bill Gates said that “the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”  Although the internet has significantly impacted human communication, it is hardly the first form of mass media.  More than 150 years earlier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. mimicked the tone of Gates’s remark when he called the stereograph “the card of introduction to make all mankind acquaintances” (744).  Working with the Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection at the Library Company this summer has made me think about the multiple moments throughout modern history in which new technologies have made communication more accessible to the general public.  More significantly, this experience has made me ask the question: what rhetorical strategies do societies use to emphasize the beneficial aspects of media and technological revolutions?

Developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, the stereograph was the great-grandfather of today’s 3D media.  A stereograph uses two nearly identical photographs which produce the illusion of depth when viewed through a stereoviewer.  In the subsequent decades, other inventors improved upon Wheatstone’s design resulting in the commercialization of stereo photography.

A hand-held stereograph viewer, after the design popularized by Oliver Wendell Holmes, with a stereograph card inserted. Creator: Davepape, 2006. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holmes_stereoscope.jpg

A hand-held stereograph viewer, after the design popularized by Oliver Wendell Holmes, with a stereograph card inserted. Creator: Davepape, 2006. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereoscope#/media/File:Holmes_stereoscope.jpg

Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the stereograph quickly became a form of easily accessible media in the United States.  While the daguerreotype, an early one-of-a-kind photographic process, used expensive silver plates, many early creators of stereograph views took advantage of  paper processes like the albumen print, which allowed for multiple copies of an image.  As a result, stereograph views had relatively low prices that increased both their production quantity and the size of their audience. Additionally, the mass-produced photographs facilitated a shift in subject matter.  While many daguerreotypes were portraits of the wealthy and their families, many stereo photographers captured the images of landscapes and cityscapes to sell to the general public.  The stereograph was one of the first technologies that allowed Americans to affordably glimpse the world around them from their home.

Although changes in production helped the stereograph become a new mass media, it rested upon journalists, writers, and intellectuals to make it a symbol of positive societal advancement.  As Edward W. Earle argues, in 19th-century America the stereograph gained ideological prominence through its association with the already celebrated ideal of mass democracy.  Earle writes that “anything which allowed for the participation of more than one class came to be labeled democratic…A realistic social ramification of democratic tendencies was greater accessibility to information in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, and pictures” (9).  For writers like Holmes, the varied views of stereographs offered a new and affordable form of visual education.  With stereographs, more Americans could learn about the world through images and then make informed decisions that contributed to running the republic.

Although changes in production helped the stereograph become a new mass media, it rested upon journalists, writers, and intellectuals to make it a symbol of positive societal advancement.  As Edward W. Earle argues, in 19th-century America the stereograph gained ideological prominence through its association with the already celebrated ideal of mass democracy.  Earle writes that “anything which allowed for the participation of more than one class came to be labeled democratic…A realistic social ramification of democratic tendencies was greater accessibility to information in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, and pictures” (9).  For writers like Holmes, the varied views of stereographs offered a new and affordable form of visual education.  With stereographs, more Americans could learn about the world through images and then make informed decisions that contributed to running the republic.

A stereograph card showing an affluent middle-class woman using a stereograph viewer in her parlor. Title: “The Stereograph as an Educator.” Creator: Underwood & Underwood, circa 1901. loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.08781/

In addition to signifying  mass democracy, the stereograph also became a symbol of America’s rising middle-class and consumer culture.  In the mid to late 19th-century, increased industrial output made the purchase of luxury items possible for those who were not part of the wealthy elite. Americans associated the ability to purchase consumer products with a new type of middle-class fashion and culture, or a “vernacular gentry” (Bushman xiii).  As Laura Schiavo maintains in her examination of stereographs and American social history, “the stereoscope belonged to an age in which the consumption of goods signified one’s taste,” and “consuming culture was represented as the road to social harmony” (235). Promoters of the stereograph portrayed the technology as a benign result of industrialization and mass consumption; an affordable form of cultural sophistication for many Americans.  As more families purchased the new form of mass media, many believed that their ability to do so signaled a higher standard of living for the American middle class.


One of the many stereographs produced of the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 showing the grounds in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Massive temporary buildings were constructed for the exhibition, including the Main Exhibition Building, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall, and the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot. The exhibition celebrated ideals of democratic equality, consumer culture, and technological progress. Title: Bird’s Eye View of Grounds from Reservoir. Creator: Centennial Photographic Co., circa 1876. www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/19298070735/in/dateposted/

The Library Company’s Holstein Collection is filled with stereographs from the  Centennial Exhibition of 1876.  A 100th birthday party for the United States, the exhibition served as both a celebration of patriotism and showcase of new consumer products. Like the stereograph, the Centennial Exhibition was portrayed by its chroniclers as a symbol of the increased democratic equality and consumer power that came with technological progress. Today, we should continue to recognize the ways in which we idealize technological advancements and new forms of mass media.  Technological development alone did not give rise to the claim that the internet places us at the dawn of a global society or that social media gives new power to public opinion.  These claims reflect our crafting of the story of technological development in terms of ideals we associate with benefit and prosperity.

As my internship at the Library Company wraps up, I would like to thank the staff of the Library for being friendly and welcoming, especially those I worked closely with: Erika Piola, Sarah Weatherwax, and Nicole Joniec in the Print Department and Connie King in the Reading Room.  I would also like to thank the Hurford Center for funding my internship and  Emily Cronin for her support.


Bushman, Richard. The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.

Earle, Edward W. “The Stereograph in American: Pictorial Antecedents and Cultural Perspectives.” In Points of View: The Stereograph in America—A Cultural History. Rochester, N. Y.: Visual Studies Workshop, 1979.

Gates, Bill and Collins Hemmingway, Business @ the Speed of Thought. New York: Grand Central         Publishing, 1999.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell.  “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph.” In The Atlantic Monthly (June 1859).

Schiavo, Laura. “‘A Collection of Endless Extent and Beauty’: Stereographs, Vision, Taste and the American Middle Class, 1850-1880.” Diss. George Washington University, 2003.

David Zabliski, Haverford College ‘17

LCP intern, Summer 2015

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Public Art in Philadelphia

With help from the Hurford Humanities Center’s Summer Research Fellowship fund, I have spent the past couple months fully immersed in the filmmaking process.

As a film and media studies major at Swarthmore, I was given the option to do an independent thesis and I immediately jumped on that opportunity. After having worked on multiple documentary projects during my time at Haverford (thanks to the wonderful Vicky Funari), I knew that I wanted to engage my documentary skills and experiences in a topic close to home. Philadelphia has always been an under-appreciated city in my eyes, and having it as a cultural, historical, academic, and experiential resource has been crucial to the development of my thesis.

My guiding question entering this project was something along the lines of, “How does public art delineate and/or subvert socioeconomic and cultural borders”. Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been able to narrow my focus to South Philadelphia, specifically the significant Nepalese, Burmese and Bhutanese refugee populations that have accumulated in recent years.

Southeast x Southeast is a community resource  and arts center for these refugees, which aims to use art as a vehicle for storytelling and community building. With support from the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Lutheran Children and Family Service, and the Mural Arts Program, the project has expanded beyond its initial community events and has become a long term project for artist Shira Walinsky. In addition to organizational duties and teaching ESL classes, Shira has been working on related public art projects, including the soon-to-be-completed Language Lab mural at the intersection of 7th and Moore. “Language Lab” deals with important questions of language and identity in the diverse landscape that is South Philadelphia. Although my final thesis film will focus primarily on the attendees of Southeast x Southeast, I thought I would take this opportunity to showcase some of the footage taken during the first few days of Language Lab‘s installation.

I have also been working as part of the Interdisciplinary Documentary Media Fellowship – along with Anna Bullard, Nick Gandolfo-Lucia, and David Roza – on a short documentary about worker cooperatives in Philadelphia. That project is due for completion this summer and will be screened in early September. A final cut of my thesis film will screen this winter.

- Sarah Moses ’16

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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 PhilaPlace.org 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 PhilaPlace.org.
- 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 illumanu.tumblr.com/page/33.

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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