The Invisible “Page”: Children’s Plays in Kijimuna Festa

Okinawa CityI love the pages inside a book, the way it opens, directs, conceals and surprises. I wonder how the stage may perform a similar magic to that of a page and especially in theater for young children. Before heading Okinawa, I had already seen pages with holes, pages of different textures, and pages opening up architectural spaces. But the stages still amazed me.


Most of my favorite plays have stages that hold only less than 50 audiences, with a carpet for children to crawl, sit on and watch the performance at the closest distance possible. Sometimes, the carpet becomes an extension of the stage. In a Scottish play named Cloud Man (, the evidences of Cloud Man’s existence hide themselves among children on the carpet: as tiny hands approached those tiny socks, scarfs, bags and underwear from Cloud Man, amazement burst, eyes brightened and exploration made. It reminds me of the pages that I enjoyed panning through; picking up bits and parts to create my own story. I began to see the stage as a richly constructed space as the page is, with elements of shape, texture, sounds, colors interweaving in symphony.


However, I was still amazed when I saw an actual “page,” flipping and opening on the stage. The play was about another imaginative creature called “Stickman” ( As the background of the play unfolded and the story began, I felt myself strolling into a giant picture book. The background was made of a large piece of paper and characters of small pieces of paper. However, as Stickman got closer and closer to the audience, the paper-made character became a puppet, and then even the actors performed the character themselves. These layers of representation intrigued me: the distance they created, the imagination they provoked. Even the music sheets took forms from scrolls and even an umbrella patterned with scores: these “pages” echoing other “pages” of surfaces on stage, building a stereoscopic space from shapes, sounds and movements.

Children's Play: Wind

I was fascinated by the texture of pages when I discovered transparent pages and even pages in total black that you had to read them with fingers. How could this kind of “pages” be translated into the language of theater, with light, setting and bodies? Before I searched for answers in my mind, the title of a play interested me: Wind (, a play about something that is invisible, but in some ways, touchable and hearable. The performers no longer had to strive between what shall be seen and what not but concentrating on showing the audience what cannot be seen. Dozens of fans, pieces of paper glittering and floating across the space and even the music and sounds came from the actor’s breathe into the instruments. This “invisible page” of wind was fabricated through the exquisite machinery of theater; a “page” to be read with not only eyes but also skins, fingers and ears.

At the end, I think the plays taught me one thing: there hides a “page” on every stage and every page is a dynamic “stage.”

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PHC’s Erie “SpeakEasy: A Networking Mix and Mingle”

During the second week of my internship with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) I provided support for PHC’s first ever “SpeakEasy: A Networking Mix and Mingle.” The event afforded members of the humanities community the opportunity to network with each other and connect with PHC.  The event was such a success that our team set out to plan a second SpeakEasy in Erie, Pennsylvania.

From calling musicians and managing the budget to printing nametags and researching local humanities organizations, from the start I was a part of making the event a reality. After spending a great deal of time and energy on planning the SpeakEasy, I was so excited and fortunate that PHC flew me out to Erie to attend the event.

PHC staff members at SpeakEasy Erie

PHC staff members at SpeakEasy Erie

PHC Executive Director, Laurie Zierer, networking SpeakEasy attendee

PHC Executive Director, Laurie Zierer, networking with a SpeakEasy attendee

It was such a thrill to see everything come together in a really lovely evening. I listened to the musician that I had booked and met many prominent members of the Erie humanities community that I had only previously heard about. My first ever business trip was topped of when we watched the sun set over the lake as I felt very proud of the event we had all put together.

Erie Sunset

Erie Sunset

In addition to working on the SpeakEasy, during my last weeks at PHC I was also given the very fun, albeit seemingly daunting task, of defining the humanities. The definition is going to be used in the newly revised Request for Proposal that PHC is putting together as part of their new grant direction. After researching at the way in which other councils define the humanities, I was able to pick out the most common and what I believe to be the most important aspects of the humanities. In the end I came up with the following definition:

“The humanities are the stories and the ideas that convey what it means to be human. They connect us with each other and start conversations that cause us to think critically, engage with our communities, and grow. The humanities provide continuity with the past, reflect the present, and illuminate possibilities for the future, fostering a greater understanding of the world and our place in it.”

I wanted to ensure the focus of the definition was on the way in which the humanities connect us with each other and the world around us. I am fascinated by the way in which a novel can transport the reader to an entirely different world and offer insight into what would otherwise be a completely foreign experience. When considering the humanities’ power to form connections, it is fitting that the PHC hosts networking events to connect people, ideas, and stories. After a SpeakEasy attendee thanked us for gathering members of the humanities community and spoke of how appreciative she was for the opportunity to make connections with others, I was proud that I helped make that happen.

As I look back on the past 10 weeks, I am extremely grateful to the PHC and Haverford’s Humanities Center for such a beneficial, productive, and inspiring internship experience. I feel very fortunate that I was able to make meaningful connections with the wonderful and supportive PHC staff, the humanities community, the non-profit sector, and better understand the world around me and my place in it.

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The Virtues of a Liberal Arts Education

My internship at the Higgins Armory Museum this summer had a relatively simple description: I would be working with the Curatorial department, focusing mostly on the archives and the library. What I did not realize at first was the wide array of skills and experiences I would draw on in order to complete the tasks assigned to me. What follows is a list of just some of the classes I’ve taken whose coursework has been useful to me this summer:

Arabic – I took Arabic for two semesters last year, at Haverford. The Higgins has a decent collection of Islamic armor, including a mail shirt with a maker’s medallion we ran across while checking and re-organizing all of the mail in the collection. Even simple things like distinguishing from letters and numbers in foreign scripts can be quite useful!

Latin – I took Latin for two years, in 7th and 8th grade, because my school required it. I quit as soon as I could, because I really don’t like memorizing vocabulary and I’ve always found the Romans incredibly dull. It’s a good thing I still paid attention, though, as I found myself this summer transcribing part of a 16th century combat manual (in this case, a German Fechtbuch by Paulus Hector Mair). The scribe used a fair amount of shorthand and abbreviations, which required me to dig back into my small still of Latin knowledge to decipher. An example: the scribe used a small squiggle to indicate an omitted nasal, either m or n. In order to transcribe the document, I needed to know that most of these at the ends of words would be m, as many Latin suffixes end in m; however, certamen, a very frequent word in this text, ends in n.

German – I took German this past year at Haverford, so have a basic vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. It turns out that the Latin Fechtbuch I transcribed also exists in two other versions: one in German, and the other with both Latin and German. My next step, after getting my footing with the Latin, was to move on to the German version, which has much more complicated script. What was really rewarding about this transcription, though, was my ability to translate it. It turns out that since a Fechtbuch is such a technical document, the language is fairly simple and repetitive. With only two semesters of German under my belt, I’ve been able to translate five full sequences, including this one.


Corresponding pages from three versions of the Mair Fechtbuch. From left to right: German (Dresden); Bilingual (Vienna); Latin (Munich)


Linguistics –I was definitely hoping I would get to use some linguistics, it being my major and all. I haven’t been able to do any rigorous linguistics work, but I have found the body of little tidbits and fun facts I’ve built up to be tremendously helpful. In translating the Fechtbuch, I called upon some reading I’ve done (for fun) about the history of English and Germanic languages. Since the manuscript is from the 16th century, it makes use of old spelling conventions (when it has spelling conventions at all). Some of the simpler instances of this are the German word ein ‘one’ appearing as ain, or linken ‘left’ appearing as linckhen or lincken in the monolingual German copy and as linggen in the bilingual Latin/German copy. Similar inconsistencies appeared in the Latin.

Our library has a fair number of books in other languages, mostly French and German. Recently, I’ve been charged with transferring the records of periodicals to a digital format (our library still uses a card catalogue, and all the indexes were created on the typewriter in the room). I’ve spent time figuring out that “København” wasn’t somewhere exotic, merely Copenhagen in Danish, and that “Maggio” is not my friend’s name, but actually the Italian month of May.

Chemistry – I didn’t even only draw from humanities! I dabbled for a day in conservation, only to discover that it is essentially applied chemistry. A good conservator has a detailed knowledge of the composition and qualities of each different type of material they encounter, as well as a mental ordered list of the possible issues and chemical and physical treatments best suited for preserving them.

History – I had lots of fun digging around in old pictures and documents in the archives! One gem: this Certificate of Cooperation issued to the Worcester Pressed Steel Company (the company the Higgins Armory was originally affiliated with) for participating in the implementation of the Marshall Plan, following World War II.


Also, on a somewhat less fun note, eight years of history teachers requiring research papers has caused me to have most of the Chicago Manual of Style citation formats memorized, which has come in handy on multiple occasions. Three cheers for academic honesty!

Museum Studies – Last semester at Haverford, I took Rubie Watson’s course titled Museum Anthropology. To have the chance to see the things we had discussed in class in action while the ideas are still fresh in my head has been quite a fulfilling experience.

English – As much as I complained about it at the time, I’m really thankful my high school required a Shakespeare course senior year. I chose Political Shakespeare, in which we read Machiavelli’s The Prince, followed by a bunch of histories: Richard II, Henry IV (both parts), Henry V, and Richard III. While some may dispute the actual historical accuracy of these, the basic understanding I now have of English history political structure of that period has been helpful in putting the objects in the museum into better context.

Technical Theater – This one is more of a corollary to the previous, but still important. The semester I took a technical theater course in high school, we helped put on an 80’s punk London adaptation of Richard III. The act of having to try to explain the War of the Roses to an audience definitely helped me understand it a bit more myself.

Music – This one is a little bit of a stretch, as I haven’t actually had to do anything distinctly musical this summer. What I have needed are some of the things I’ve picked up from singing a diverse selection of pieces. For instance: Middle School Latin class doesn’t teach you the word crucem ‘cross’, but singing Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” does. This came in handy when I ran across an unfamiliar German word while translating the combat manual, but I was able to see that the corresponding Latin referred to the crucem, or the crossguard of a blade. Another: If we hadn’t sung that goofy “Dancing Song” in 11th grade, I would have no idea that Magyar referred to Hungary, and would not have been able to connect with a friend of my mother’s, who happens to speak Hungarian and was willing to help me figure out what a book in the library, A Magyar Viseletek Története, was about.

All this being said, I am reminded how grateful I am for all I have learned while at the Higgins. Hopefully, I can add it to my list of “useful things I’ve learned,” and can apply it in future endeavors. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll really need to know which pauldron goes on which arm (Mr. Higgins could have used the knowledge; he got it backwards!).

J Higgins in armor



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Building the Future

Working with the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection has revealed to me the apparent contradiction inherent in cityscapes: the built environment of the present is both the same as and yet utterly alien to the built environment of the past. That is, a stereograph from the 1860s and one from the 1890s may show the same street block in Philly, featuring the same building. But the shops within that building will have changed, awnings and advertisements will have gone up or come down, electric streetlights and telephone poles will have replaced the old gas lamps lining the sidewalks. Or entirely new edifices will be built on the graveyard of torn down buildings.

 This realization extends beyond a comparison of stereographs within the collection. Images of City Hall, the Union League building, the Academy of Music, and the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel are strange, archaic twins of the same, three-dimensional buildings I pass every day on my walk from Suburban Station to the Library Company. Yet the settings of these landmarks are drastically different, from the type of traffic crowding Broad Street (horse-drawn carriages switch to cars where the only animal drawing is on the auto logo) to the fashions of the people populating the sidewalks (bustles to mini-skirts). And I am pretty certain that Starbucks and Nicole Miller were not the original tenants of the Bellevue-Stratford. The late nineteenth-century and the early twenty-first century thus collide in a way both comforting and jarring. Change as the only static fact of the urban world has a good deal in common with college life, or so I’ve begun to think.

 Four years at an institution like Haverford is similarly both foundational and fleeting. It may help determine future careers and friends, a new hometown, and philosophical-ethical development. But the days of waking up at noon for a class on magic and medicine in medieval Europe are numbered, and there are only so many uses one can get out of a squirrel-covered sweatshirt after senior year. After graduation, some things will remain forever embedded in the life of the newly minted adult, and some things will be lost to the past. Dramatic ruminations on my impending aging colored my last few weeks of freshman year with existential anxiety.

 Now, as I conclude the summer following what feels like a very brief freshman year, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to gain a little perspective. (More than provided with a non-archivist nine-to-five job, although I have heard they are in general pretty grounding.) Philadelphia has survived the ebb and flow of the century; I can survive the transition from new student to student halfway through college. Haverford itself seems to be doing just fine with the march of time, as one of the last stereographs I housed in the Collection proves:

Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia, Print Department

“Haverford College,” circa 1870s. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Print Department.

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Wrapping up my summer internship with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association (POA)

Board of Directors Handbook in Progress!

Board of Directors Handbook in Progress!


With July wrapping up and my mind becoming increasingly focused on salt water, school, and selecting where to apply for post-secondary education, I would like to reflect on my time as a Development Intern with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association this summer before returning to school in the fall. I have become more and more enthralled with this internship each day and the educational opportunities that I have been able to seize during it. I have learned a variety of things pertaining to the inner-workings of Non-Profit Music Business Management such as: Annual Fund, Transformation Fund, Tele-funding, Corporate Funding Policies, Estate-Planning, and the Board of Directors. I have attached to this post an image of what I have been working on closely each day during the summer: assembling the Board of Directors Handbook. (see above)

The Board of Directors, in addition to being: donors, overseers, and committee chairs of the POA, are passionate and active philanthropists of culture and the arts in Philadelphia. Without the aid of these dedicated and capable individuals, the orchestra would not be able to flourish to the degree that it does on a daily basis. The Board of Directors Handbook, which I have been working on, is an important educational tool that essentially provides a thorough overview of the people, events, policies, and committees involved in the POA each year. This handbook provides accessible information about the: concert schedule, ticket information, background history of the POA, bios of the conductors and CEO, and contact info. of other board members which helps them to connect with each other. This propitious handbook helps to fortify the sense of community between Orchestra Staff Members and Board of Directors, and I am thankful to have been included in this insightful process.

My summer internship with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association is very helpful not only for my graduate school resume, but also because it gives me insight into the inner-workings and strategies of a prestigious non-profit association. In addition, I have been able to cultivate relationships with many amiable staff members in Development, Marketing, and Annual Fund Departments this summer. Regardless of whether I go into teaching, publishing, non-profit arts management, or for-profit arts management after my graduate school tutelage, I will definitely look back on my time with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association as a time of learning, growing, and networking with enthusiastic musicians in Philadelphia.


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One Little Piggy Did Marketing


Hey world,

The production process for PAY UP is well under way. We got a receipt for $3,000 worth of lumber yesterday, which means that the set is probably being constructed as I type. Funnily enough, the PAY UP set looks quite minimalist (in the press release, I call it “stark and labyrinthine”) but is also incredibly complicated. If you’ve seen any of our social media pages, you’ve seen Anna Kiraly (the set designer)’s axonometric box drawings* that I’ve turned into banners and icons; those give a good idea of the simplicity of the set, very black, white, and geometric. However, in person the set doesn’t feel simple at all. It is incredibly complex and complicatedly immense, as is the whole production. If (when?) you see it, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s impossible to see the same show twice, even if you take the map handed out at the door.

But despite the above opinions, I really am not involved in the production process of PAY UP at all. In fact, most of my days have been spent in the office working on development and marketing. We have a number of special events for PITC donors and sponsors in the weeks leading up to PAY UP, so I’ve been writing the invites for those and updating our database of PITC supporters. I’ve been doing some graphic design work for the various mailings we’ve been sending out, which I’ve really enjoyed. My recent project has been to manage the visa application process for a New Zealand composer who is coming over to work on Pig Iron’s TWELFTH NIGHT in December. If you have never written a visa application for an alien artist, I hope you never have to. It is quite a process, though will hopefully make a big difference to the production because the composer specializes in Maori and Balkan folk music and I don’t know how many other people can say that.

Last week I found out that I got the grant I applied for from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. I enjoyed writing the grant, so getting it was even more exciting. However, Keith Chen, the speaker for whom I wrote the grant, has dropped off the face of the earth and hasn’t responded to email or phone calls in two or three weeks, which is making everyone uneasy. I suggested Tweeting at him because we’ve tried everything else, but I think that may be our absolute last resort.

I went out to lunch yesterday with Emily Cronin and Michael Rushmore (HCAH intern at Philly Mural Arts) and was reminded that my days at Pig Iron are winding down. I only have two weeks left, which means I’ll be leaving just as the rehearsals for PAY UP really start to get off the ground. Luckily, I’ll only be down the Main Line and still plan to be involved peripherally in some publicity and social media things. I have recently struck up a Twitter friendship/flirtation (under the pseudonym @PigIronTheatre of course) with WHYY reporter Peter Crimmins and I’m not ready to let that go just yet.

Pig Iron Theatre Company
* there will be an interview with Anna and Quinn Bauriedel (PITC Co-Artistic Director) posted on our Tumblr sometime next week.

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Suckers: A Pineapple Parable

Hello I am Ryan Rebel and I am here today to talk to you about pineapples.



Pineapples are a majestic fruit.  They are the kings and queens of the fruit kingdom.  They used to represent exoticism and royalty and high class in England, and then they represented hospitality and domesticity in America, but now they just sort of represent Hawaii. . .

Are you bored yet?  Wishing I would get to the point?  Asking yourself that existential, universal question: “Why pineapples?”

I had to ask myself the same question at the beginning of the summer.  No, my job has not been Pineapple Guy.  I’ve been working with Professor Laura McGrane, primarily helping her construct a new class she will be teaching in the fall: “New(s) Media and Print Culture”.  That’s been good and all, but it has nothing to do with pineapples, so why should we care?

Well, one of my other tasks was doing background research for an argument Professor McGrane was trying to make in an essay she’d drafted.  That argument involved a very specific reading of a line about pineapples in an 18th-century work, and she needed to know everything about the cultural perception of pineapples at that time to make sure she wasn’t being an irresponsible academic.  Nobody wants to wake up one day and realize that they have become an irresponsible academic.

So as a side task, Laura gave me the following instructions: “Find me ALL THERE IS TO KNOW about pineapples.”  That’s not a direct quote, but that’s how it felt to me; I had never attempted an extended period of research on such a singular topic before.  I was a bit nervous.  I didn’t know anything about pineapples.  I don’t even like pineapples.  I think they’re pretty gross.  Also sort of intimidating, with all those prickles on the outside.

Laura spun me around and pointed me at Jeremiah Mercurio.  I stumbled into his office and he inundated me with the multitudinous possibilities of strategies and tactics that I could use to achieve that nebulous goal of RESEARCH.  It was incredibly helpful.  He took me through the ropes of the library website, JSTOR, English databases, Art databases, History databases, and even the attractive wiles of the citational program Zotero.

In the wake of that glut of information, I began searching for a different glut of information.  It took me about two weeks to gather a satisfactory (both for myself and for Laura) amount of data on pineapples.  I read 18th-century books on how to properly tend pineapple hothouses, essays about Locke’s essay in which he uses the pineapple as a metaphor, websites dedicated to the history of the pineapple, treatises on the pineapple’s unsurpassed excellence, and a rather awful graduate student’s essay about the symbolism of the pineapple.  It was really a lot of reading.

I found ways to amuse myself as I was going along.  My favorite work on pineapples was written by an 18th-century horticulturalist named William Speechly, head gardener to the Duke of Portland.  He went into several hundred pages of precise detail about the best methods of growing pineapples in hothouses, but my favorite passages were those in which he described his hard-learned method for “extirpating” the foreign insects that were harmful to the pineapple plant.  I imagined Mr. Speechly obsessing over the tiny bugs, ranting to all who would listen about his decades-long struggles with the insidious little pests who were ruining his precious pineapples.

Since these were primary source documents, the print style of the 18th century threw me for several loops.  One of the more startling reading experiences I had involved repeated discourses on one particular aspect of the pineapple’s biology: its suckers.  Many times, these authors would mention the suckers, explain what should be done to the suckers, how they should be treated, when and how they should be removed from the plant.  However, you 18th century scholars know quite well that the typographical symbol for the letter “s” was nearly identical to the typographical symbol for the letter “f”.  The “long s”, it’s called.  You can imagine my surprise every time I encountered a phrase such as “remove the suckers” and read it. . . differently than intended.

Is there a moral to the story?  Reading cross-cultural texts can sometimes be confusing!  Research makes you smarter!  18th-century horticulturalists really hated certain types of bugs!  You can find interest in a topic that you previously had no motivation to be interested in!  These are all adequate morals.


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Writing the Border

Looking south in the Tumacácori Mountains, a popular region for crossing and patrolling the U.S. Mexico Border.

The Tumacácori Mountains, a popular region for crossing and patrolling the U.S.-Mexico Border.

My summer project really started in my Short Fiction I class last fall, when I read a Paris Review interview with Kurt Vonnegut. As someone who had recently—and tentatively—declared a major in anthropology and a minor in creative writing, I was intrigued to find that an author I admired had similar interests. Vonnegut went to the University of Chicago for his master’s degree in anthropology, but he eventually dropped out because he was broke and his ideas for a dissertation had been rejected. Twenty years later, the anthropology department accepted Vonnegut’s science fiction novel, Cat’s Cradle, as his dissertation. I found this story both ludicrous and inspiring. I thought: that’s the kind of thesis I want to write, something that explores culture through imaginative fiction. But even though I knew the way I wanted to write, I still didn’t have a subject to write about.

More inspiration came in December, when I read a gonzo-style article by Damon Tabor in Rolling Stone: “Border of Madness: Crossing the Line with Arizona’s Anti-Immigration Vigilantes.” Having thought that the Minutemen had all but died out, I was surprised to read that there were still groups of citizens patrolling the U.S.-Mexico Border. I became completely fascinated by these groups, and during winter break I spent some time researching organizations like them.

During the spring semester, I wrote a research paper on citizen border patrol groups for my Topographies of Violence class. In my Longer Fictional Forms class, I wrote the first half of a novella that features an anthropologist and a fictional citizen border patrol group. This summer, thanks to the Humanities Center, I am home in Arizona doing research I was unable to do last semester and working towards a finished draft of the novella.

In my research, I have mainly been doing two different things. Firstly, I have been reading theoretical texts that broadly compare methods of “writing culture” in fiction and ethnography, such as Margery Wolf’s Thrice Told Tale. Ethnography is the standard genre for writing anthropology, and it involves qualitative analysis based on “participant-observation” fieldwork. (Depending on the kind of fieldwork, an anthropologist will “participate” in a culture and “observe” its participants in different ways.) By researching ethnographic and fictional representations of culture, I aim to gain a better understanding of the specific details of lived experience written as culture and how those details may be written to represent different truths to different audiences. In order to ground these theoretical musings, I am focusing particularly on fictional and ethnographic works about groups which patrol the U.S.-Mexico border: the Border Patrol, citizen border patrol groups, and humanitarian aid organizations. My questions concerning border patrols are related to those concerning the disciplinary border between ethnography and fiction. For instance, in what ways are both borders productive, destructive, violated, and constructed? Ultimately, while reading each author, I ask 1) “why are you writing about your subject this way?” and 2) “how do you do it?”

I have spent the better part of the summer doing this kind of text-based research, and I have only begun to dig-in again with writing the novella these past few weeks. During this next month, I will be conducting my own fieldwork by volunteering with a humanitarian aid organization and, hopefully, visiting the Border Patrol station in Yuma. With some luck, I might also have a full draft of the novella.

Thank you for reading! I’ll be posting at least one more time before the summer is over.

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Summer Research in Berlin


Ian Gavigan ’14 spent six weeks of his summer research fellowship working in archives and libraries in Berlin, Germany. He didn’t spend all his time there buried in old newspapers. Here, Ian enjoys a late afternoon in Berlin’s neighbor to the southwest, Potsdam. Notice his pockets full of basil.

Last Wednesday, I got back from six weeks in Berlin. Before that, I spent days sitting in an archive I happily stumbled upon, juggling dozens of WorldCat entries, boxes of micro-film, piles of history books, and folders of newspaper clippings. Out of this mess I’m supposed to write a thesis. We’ll see about that. For now I’m enjoying picking through the haphazard collection that’s building around my ever-evolving topic: turn-of-the-century (19-20th) mass media (newspapers), the “academy’s” scientific production of knowledge about humans and culture, and popularly-circulating ways of understanding and “thinking” racial difference.

Although this project started before I arrived at Haverford, it began taking recognizable shape last fall in Professor Travis Zadeh’s  Religion major area seminar called “Religion and Translation.” Early in the course we read the book “Languages of Paradise” by Maurice Olender. It is a history of the connections between 18th and 19th century philologists–people who studied and compared the history of languages and grammar, especially “Oriental” languages like Sanskrit and Persian–and Indo-European or Aryan racism. Through “Indo-European” linguistics, these academics elaborated detailed and complex “histories” of the Aryan race. Comparing languages like German, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian, and Greek and identifying shared structures and vocabularies among them, philologists theorized a shared “Ursprache” or original language and imagined a pre-modern Golden Age of racial purity. Modern German, and accordingly modern Germans, constituted then the racial successors to the “harmonious” and “perfect” Aryan race.

While reading about the development of the philological Aryan mythology I found myself wondering about the connection to the “public”–to the rest of the world that didn’t spend its time gushing over the grammatical and racial perfection of the Vedas. Obviously (think Third Reich, purity laws, Holocaust) these racial ideas weren’t limited to universities–they went viral. With the help of Professor Zadeh, I decided to look at newspapers, thinking that among their pages I could encounter the fin-de-siecle German public’s interface with all kinds of knowledge, racial and otherwise, they weren’t encountering elsewhere. And, thanks to the generous support of the HCAH,  off to Berlin I went!

I started this summer thinking I would be looking for explicit and implicit connections between philology, racism, and the elusive “public” in German newspapers from around the turn of the century. I’m still in the general ballpark, but my focuses have shifted in the course of researching. As it turns out, finding references to philologists in popular newspapers isn’t too easy. I spent time poking around popular Berlin newspapers and wasn’t having much luck encountering explicit discussions of philologists or philological work. However, I was, predictably enough, encountering lots of highly racialized language. Repeatedly, the references were not to philologists but instead to scholars like anthropologists, geographers, and historians as well as to less academic people like travel writers and amateur ethnographers.

One newspaper in particular, the “Berliner Morgenpost,” founded in 1898, published a daily section called “Populäre Wissenschaft” or “Popular Science” from 1898 to mid-1900. Many of the articles I’m talking about were published there. While other newspapers that predated the Morgenpost also reported regularly on anthropology, geography, ethnology, etc. in terms of race (I’m currently looking through clippings from the well-heeled “Vossische Zeitung” from around 1880 which regularly reported on the meetings of the Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte” the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory), the Morgenpost is important because it became the foremost popular newspaper of the turn of the century period in Berlin, reaching a broader public outside of traditionally well-educated and scientifically-literate audiences.

Simultaneously I’ve been trying to immerse myself in the time period more broadly. No history of Germany, especially with things like race in mind, can ignore German and European colonialism alongside/inside of which this history of race is playing out. There’s also literature  I’m looking at on the political developments, workers’ movements, popular literacy, and consumer cultures of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that illuminate the intersecting political and quotidian commitments of Germans c. 1900. A massive amount of literature is available, a small slice of which I’ve looked at, considering the history of ideas of race in local and global contexts, tracing the philosophical and social movement of the category. Histories of “Öffentlichkeit” or the public sphere, nationalism, Aryanism, and ideology in general–each of these helps make up the fabric of this history. And there’s more, but I won’t go into it in this post. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to be read.

So this is where I am. I’ve been in Berlin working at a few different archives and libraries since early June. Now that I’m back home, I will use the rest of my summer vacation to read, re-read, and digest the material I’ve been encountering. Watch out for another update from me. Enjoy the heat!

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Du Bois Project – Updates!

Hi all, it’s Alexandra again writing to update you from The Du Bois project here at Penn.


Since my last post, it’s been a busy and wonderful couple weeks! I love this work because I am constantly able to do different things each day and am experiencing so many areas of teaching, research, academics, and Philadelphia. In my last post, I talked a bit about the oral history component of the Du Bois project. Its goal is to record the life histories of older members of the city’s historic Black churches. Last week, I went on my first interview with the group, in which we spoke with Reverend Lillian Smith, the current Pastor of Tindley Temple on South Broad Street. She shared some very interesting insights, such as how she has seen the city change over the past decades and her personal experiences being a woman of color in leadership positions. This week, I have been working on transcribing the interview so that we can have the full text for our archives. Next, we will fact check and select the sections that we want to highlight for video clips to post on the website. For each person interviewed, we also create a booklet with excerpts from their narration, alongside personal photographs that they may provide. Check out some of the completed oral histories that are already on the website – click here!


I have also been able to experience some of Professor Amy Hillier’s (the director of the Du Bois project) other work and research, specifically her latest study on food access in Chester. Chester is considered a ‘food desert’ because the city does not contain a full grocery store, but instead only fast food, corner, and convenience stores. This fall, though, the food bank, Philabundance, will open a subsidized grocery store, Fare and Square, to help provide access to fresh produce and healthier food options. Professor Hillier’s project seeks to collect baseline data of Chester residents’ eating and shopping habits so that they can then compare this with data taken after the store opens. The project ultimately seeks to locate ways for improving community health and decreasing national health care costs by mapping and understanding where, how, and why people both shop for and make decisions about food. It has been a great experience to see the backend of research and the real nuts and bolts of working daily in the field. I think that I would someday love to do academic and social research, so I’m very  grateful for the chance to experience it now!


Last week, I also visited the African American museum here in Philly, on 7th and Arch streets, just outside of Chinatown. I had been wanting to go for over a year and really enjoyed the experience. I was able to connect with the exhibits on a much deeper level due to all I have learned here in the Du Bois project regarding African-American history in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. I also loved their current traveling exhibit, a showcase of The Supremes, including their gowns and performance outfits. The exhibit juxtaposes negatively stereotypical media imagery of African-Americans from the 1940′s and 1950′s with the ways in which The Supremes remade this image and created the modern ‘diva.’ It includes newspaper clippings, videos, and an awesome soundtrack (You Can’t Hurry Love, Baby Love) playing in the background. The exhibit is open until mid-August, I believe, so you should go soon if you are interested!

The remaining two weeks (how did time go so quickly??) will be just as packed, too, and I’m very excited for them. On tap I have:

  • A visit to the Philadelphia Folklore Project, I’m planning to see their latest exhibit that pays tribute to the legacy of African-American dancers and drummers here in Philly who have paved the way for the city’s now vibrant community of Afro-descended rhythm and music traditions. 
  • A walking tour of the Seventh Ward (the heart of Black Philadelphia in 1900 that Du Bois studied in his work, The Philadelphia Negro).
  • An interview with artist, Samuel Joyner, to speak more about his political cartoons that I am using in my curriculum on race and racism today. I saw his work during my first week in the Temple University Urban Archives.
  • Some practice trying out the lesson plans that I have developed with groups of high school students.
  • A workshop hosted by the Penn library that will teach me the basics of Photoshop.
  • We have some real foodies in our team, so continued recipe-swapping and meal-sharing at lunch time! :)

Thank you for reading!!


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