What have we learned from the Women’s March? The turnout this weekend for Women’s March 2018 was wonderful to see. Another year, and another moment to express dissatisfaction, disgust, and disagreement with this country’s leadership, particularly in regards to women’s rights. But what have we learned? Marches are great. They show solidarity. They show Who gets to archive? What archives matter? Whose stories are told? Whose traces are captured? Who gets access to the archive? Why does the archive matter?
These were just a few of the questions that we asked students to think about during a Fall semester course titled Documentary, Archives, & Activism. Collaborating with Lora Taub-Pervizpour, Rachel Hamelers, and Susan Falciani I spent a semester exploring the idea of an open archival process with a group of students while also discussing the ethics of documentary making and oral history gathering. The resulting website, powered by Omeka, tried to account for the conversations we had, as well as the conversations the nation and the world were having in regards to the Women’s March.
As noted on the project website,
“In practice, efforts to construct an inclusive Muhlenberg Women’s March Archive were beset with some of the same problems that hindered the march itself. Within the context of a primarily white institution, we aimed to adopt collection practices that were open and inclusive. Still, the resulting archive is built on and primarily represents the voices and experiences of white cisgendered, able bodied women. Thus, this course was as much about the ethics and power of documentary and archival production as it was about the practices of building a digital archive and documentary exhibits.”
This archive is not without problems. As one student noted in her exhibit on intersectionality at the march, “intersectionality came into the planning process for my exhibit after the fact, much like the way it was brought into the conversation about feminism after the fact. It entered the game after it had already been started…And by the time we had selected themes for our exhibits, I already had two more interviews scheduled, both with white narrators.” What we hope this project offers is a process, not necessarily a solution or an answer. Our work relied heavily on the use of Domain of One’s Own as a platform that would allow us to work as openly as possible, expanding the boundaries of our classroom. The course syllabus, student reflections, library digital archive, and student archive all live on the open web with most every image labeled for reuse by others. It is our hope that the transparency of process and the open collaboration will help others find ways to capture these ephemeral moments. Perhaps these conversations and efforts will lead to a better representation of voices and experiences.