Guest Blogger: Carlina Green, “Not Included in the Photograph”: Staff Underrepresentation in the Archives and How We Must Combat It (Part Two)

This is the second part of a two-part post by Carlina Green ‘20.

You see, the Archives cannot preserve sources that are never created. And when sources are not preserved in the Archives, their subjects can be underrepresented in narratives that draw on those sources or left out of such narratives entirely.

The staff of the Archives are committed to combating these historical silences, and they work to uncover and preserve the stories of populations underrepresented in the collections they administer.[1] This includes the stories of Davidson employees. Two examples of their exemplary work profiling 19th– and 20th-century staff include Niara Webb’s blog post on “Dean of Janitors” Mr. Enoch Donaldson and Hannah Foltz’s post on Davidson’s security officer “Cop” Ed Linker. Drawing on both archival materials and public records, Webb and Foltz try to piece together portraits of these historical actors about whom little has been preserved.

A photo of Enoch Donaldson standing in front of a building.
Photograph of Mr. Enoch Donaldson.

However, as Cottle mentioned, the content of posts dedicated to these past staff is limited to their work experiences, as that is the main focus of preserved, available sources. Furthermore, the Archives face a paucity of sources about the lives of current Davidson employees.[2]

One solution? Creating more of these sources by collaborating with staff who want to share their stories.[3] Students, consider interviewing interested college staff for your theses, capstone projects, or summer research. Faculty, please integrate staff history projects into your courses and into your own research. And compensate staff for their interview time; take advantage of research grants available for faculty, for students, and for faculty-student collaborations.

A portion of the College’s Statement of Purpose reads, “Davidson holds a priceless heritage bequeathed by those who have dedicated their lives and their possessions for its welfare.”[4] Part of honoring staff, who dedicate so much to this campus and its students, is valuing their life stories and memories. [5] They who offer so much to the College must be preserved in its history. So, let’s fight the silences; let’s create the sources that preserve their words and their legacies.


[1] One place this commitment is visible is in their documentary Always Part of the Fabric.

[2] Two examples of sources about current staff they receive consistently are speeches delivered on Employee Appreciation Day and winner lists for annual grants and awards like the Spirit of Davidson.

[3] For those concerned about protecting staff identities, remember that interviews donated to the archives can remain closed for a period of time (such as 50 years), or they can be anonymous.

[4] Some were forced to dedicate their lives to Davidson’s welfare, such as Susan, a young girl enslaved by former College President Rev. Drury Lacy.

[5] Today, many may choose to work at Davidson, but have little choice but to work long hours at salaries a few dollars above minimum wage to support their families.

Guest bloggers: Elise Edman and Dan Murphy, “How Mapping Davidson’s Campus Altered Students’ Perceptions of Campus”

Elise Edman is a senior Computer Science major, Data Science minor, and has just finished her last volleyball season at Davidson. Next year, she will be working in St. Louis, MO as a Systems Engineer for the Cardinals.

Dan Murphy is a junior Economics major, Data Science minor, and Data CATs consultant in the Hurt Hub. This summer, he will be working in Denver, Colorado designing, developing, and testing algorithms for darknet data at DarkOwl Cybersecurity.

In October of 2019, the students of Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s course, Imaging the Earth (ANT 377), collectively mapped Davidson College’s campus. Using the “Collector for ArcGIS” app (available for download in Apple’s App Store), students walked around campus to collect the coordinates and other attributes of features like trash, garbage bins, trees, benches, art, honored objects (objects left alone and not stolen), and events. With this collaborative dataset, students were then tasked with using ArcGIS Pro software to create maps of Davidson’s campus with these features. This project ultimately changed the way that some students view the campus’ features and layout.

            One map that students created displays garbage bins with rings located 10, 20, and 40 meters away from the garbage bins’ coordinates (Map 1). The rings function to demonstrate the garbage bins’ proximity to each other and to trash found throughout campus. The map also features a representation of trash density on campus, where the darkest color is the area where trash is the densest. Most of the garbage bins and trash are found in the most student-frequented areas of campus, which is logical. It is interesting that the area with the densest trash is an area with plenty of garbage bins available to use. It appears that the distribution of garbage bins throughout campus is designed appropriately, but that students are not using them responsibly.

color map of the Davidson campus showing the location of garbage bins and loose trash

Map 1. Displays the distribution of garbage bins (with multiple ring buffers) and trash (with kernel density) throughout Davidson College’s campus.

            Another map that students created displays the benches around Davidson’s campus with rings located 15, 30, and 45 meters away from the benches’ coordinates (Map 2). In this context, the rings demonstrate the proximity of benches to other benches and artwork around campus. Students also used kernel density to analyze the density of benches and artwork throughout campus. As seen in Map 2’s legend, the red coloring represents the densest area of benches and artwork. The blue shading represents less densely-populated areas. The densest areas for benches and artwork on campus are near Chambers, Union, and the library. This is logical, as prospective students spend most of their time touring campus around these three spots. To make the campus visually attractive to visitors, it is logical that artwork and benches would be clustered in areas where they will be seen the most. Furthermore, there are additional dense areas behind the football field and near Baker Sports Complex. It appears that Davidson would do this to draw visitors to well-known on-campus locations.

color topographic map of the art and benches on the Davidson campus
Map 2. Displays the kernel density of art and benches and the distribution of benches (with multiple ring buffers).

            Overall, this project was a valuable experience for many students in Dr. Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s “Imaging the Earth” course. It challenged our previous perceptions of Davidson’s campus, forcing us to be more analytical about our surroundings and to think deeper about the decisions that Davidson administrators and students make. Additionally, this project helped students gain a better understanding of ArcGIS Pro geoprocessing tools (like multiple ring buffer and kernel density tools), formatting maps, and creating map PDFs that are ready to be shared with others. Through this valuable learning experience, students gained important skills necessary for performing accurate, comprehensible, geographical research and presenting it to others.

Guest Blogger: Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology, “Collaborative Mapping at Davidson through GIS”

Dr. Lamoureux-St-Hilaire is an archaeologist specializing in ancient political systems and geoarchaeology. His research is centered on the Classic Maya world, where he’s worked in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. For over a decade, his work has involved map-making and Geographic Information System (GIS). This summer, he’ll be taking Davidson students to Mexico and Belize to do some fieldwork. Dr. Max also co-organizes the Maya at the Lago Conference, and the 10th installment will take place at Davidson in late April.

Teaching an introductory course for Geographic Information System (GIS) comes with its set of challenges. You must teach how to operate one of the most complex software programs – ESRI’s ArcGIS Pro – while also teaching about a thoroughly interdisciplinary discipline to students majoring in diverse fields. This past semester, for the ANT-377 Imaging the Earth course, I decided to emphasize a few key topics including (1) how to ask questions about landscapes; (2) how to tie complex datasets to diverse landscapes; (3) how to create clear maps to answer these questions; and (4) how to adequately report this scientific inquisitive process.

                The best way to learn a scientific process is to learn it from beginning to end. In the case of GIS, this begins with collecting data – something that used to require a fairly complex technological setup – e.g., high resolution GPS, total station, etc. Thankfully, the new ArcGIS Pro software comes with a sister app, Collector, which uses your phone’s GPS to take datapoints. After designing a database, I asked the students to roam the Davidson campus to collect basic information about trees, benches, garbage bins, trash, art, and “honored object” (i.e., objects left lying around by students because of the honor code). Over the course of three weeks, the 16 students and myself recorded the GPS location and basic information (characteristics, height, etc.) of 447 features on campus.

Screen shot of cell phone rendering  Davidson campus with colored icons representing activities in specific places
Figure 1. The Collector App uses your phone’s GPS to identify the location of features. The highlighted “Honored Object” feature was a backpack left in a hallway of the north basement of Chambers during a class on Oct 7, 2019.

This process gave the entire group the opportunity to create an original dataset from scratch, which was then available for analysis and reporting (later this week, look for the companion blog entry by Edman and Stearns). Using opensource Lidar data for Mecklenburg County, I asked students to project these features onto a detailed Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the Davidson Campus. These combined tasks led students to autonomously combine vector (the geodatabase) and raster (the DEM) GIS data – the two types of datasets handled by GIS specialists.

                Using Collector to create a basic geodatabase effectively led students to appreciate their campus from a GIS angle. In addition, the following steps of this exercise allowed them to apply analytical and technical display techniques learned in class to their collaborative dataset. This project was their great first foray into the GIS process, which paved the way to their own personal projects; all of which involved far larger datasets generally obtained online.

A colored map of Davidson campus using the online platform of ESRI to visualize queries

Figure 2. In addition to Collector and ArcGIS Pro, ESRI has an online platform – arcgis.com – which allows you to visualize, query, and modify some of your maps and to produce simple displays such as this one.

                 GIS technology is challenging because of the thousands of disciplines it is used for, from archaeology and engineering to agriculture and military science. Yet, this exercise proved to be an excellent pedagogical tool to allow students to familiarize themselves with each step involved in the creation of a geodatabase, its analysis, rendering, and presentation. Developing this exercise (especially adequately setting up the database) was also a learning process for me, and I’m excited to continue developing this exercise in the future. Instead of 447 features, I hope to reach 1,000 in next fall’s iteration of this exercise for Imaging the Earth. In particular, I hope to study in more details the distribution of “honored objects”, which reflect a rich idiosyncratic dimension of Davidson’s academic life.

Guest Bloggers: Abby Fry, Mia Hodges, Hartlee Johnston & Erin Major, “Digging in the Davidson Archives: A Look at HIV and AIDS at Davidson”

Throughout this semester, we have been involved in an independent study class under the guidance of Dr. Wessner investigating the biological and social impacts of HIV and AIDS. We each entered this class with our own particular interests and experiences in this realm – Mia worked at the Mwandi Mission Hospital, Abby conducted research in Ghana on reproductive healthcare, Hartlee worked at an LGBTQ+ health nonprofit, and Erin worked at a harm reduction organization and needle exchange program. We were each able to bring our individual experiences to deepen our group’s discussion of the various scientific papers and books we read and movies we watched.

As the semester went on and we began to discuss what we wanted our final project for this class to look like, the topic of HIV on Davidson’s campus emerged. Though we each had knowledge of the AIDS Crisis both in the United States and abroad, none of us had ever heard much about the ways in which our campus was impacted by these events. We decided to expand the existing programming for World AIDS Day to encourage students to better understand the history of this infection both broadly and on Davidson’s campus, as well as to see that HIV is still an important and relevant issue. Our goal was to tie in several parts of campus for a series of exhibits and events that would be visible to our entire Davidson community.

Through the extensive and much appreciated help of the Archives and Special Collections staff, we were able to find pictures of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the Johnston Gym (now the Union) and records of the group that brought the Quilt here in 1994, as well as photos from their trip to Washington D.C. to be a part of the showing of the Quilt on the National Mall. We explored how the LGBTQIA+ community has grown on campus and found the documentation of the formation of different groups such as F.L.A.G. (Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Q&A (Queers and Allies), and YANASH (You are Not a Stranger Here). Some of our favorite things to explore were the Davidsonian articles that documented the slow progression of the discussion surrounding HIV and AIDS on this campus juxtaposed next to articles about the regular goings-on of the school.

Glass exhibit cases filled with artifacts and articles about AIDS at Davidson

World AIDS Day exhibition

 

Additionally, we were shown Quilt squares made by Scotty Nichols, the former director of RLO, who made these pieces to honor Davidson students and staff who had passed away due to AIDS. To read about these students, see their pictures, and hear the ways in which Scotty honored them, was a poignant reminder that Davidson was not immune to the effects of the AIDS Crisis.

Many of these artifacts from the archives are currently on display in the Library, but many more will be shown during Common Hour (11am-noon) on Tuesday, November 27th and Thursday, November 29th in the Library Fishbowl. In addition, the documentary “The Last One” about the making of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be screened, and four blocks of the Quilt will be on display for that whole week (Nov. 26th – Dec. 2nd) in the Union Atrium featuring the squares of four Davidson students. On Friday, November 30th at 4:30pm, the Visual AIDS presentation will be held the Wall Atrium. Please join us for any and all of these events, as well as taking a look at the display cases in the library.

Poster listing World AIDS Day events

World AIDS Day Events 2018

We would also like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone in the library and across campus who have provided their expertise, time, and materials to this project!

Guest Blogger: Andrew Rippeon, Ph.D. Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing, “More Frankenstein”

Broadside with the silhouette of a human with cross hatches of green surrounded by quotes regarding monsters and Frankenstein

Broadside Celebrating the Bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Halloween 2018

It’s been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s story of a creature created in a laboratory.  In the cinematic adaptations, the creature is stitched together, composed of body parts taken from corpses and medical specimens (and a famously “abnormal” brain).  Given this collage-like nature of Frankenstein’s creation, it seemed fitting to mark both the bicentennial of Shelley’s publication and Halloween 2018 with an “exquisite corpse”-style letterpress print.  In the Surrealist technique of the exquisite corpse, multiple authors or artists contribute short fragments to a single composition, with the result being a collaboratively composed final work that often demonstrates striking, unexpected juxtapositions.    

In our practice of the exquisite corpse, volunteers from Professor Sample’s WRI-101 course (“Monsters”!) visited the new and developing Letterpress Lab in the Wall Center for a brief overview of typesetting and letterpress printing.  After an introduction to the anatomy of moveable type (including the face, foot, belly, shoulder, and beard of the individual pieces of type, known as “sorts”), and the basics of typesetting (upside-down, from left to right), students selected typefaces and then set short quotations they’d brought with them, drawn from their readings in all things monsterish.  Some had chosen extracts from novels, while others had more theoretical excerpts.  When typesetting was complete, the students’ individual quotations were then gathered together onto one of two mid-century Vandercook proof presses, and locked into place in the bed of the press.   

The following day, students returned to print their type on large-format sheets previously printed with an appropriate background: a monsterish, vaguely human silhouette emerging from a visually noisy background.  Perhaps appropriate to the occasion (a celebration of what is sometimes called the first work of science fiction), these background sheets were produced on the letterpress but by means of a decidedly twenty-first century technique known as “pressure printing,” and in this specific case enabled by the technology of the laser-cutter in the college makerspace Studio M.  Pressure printing is a little bit like stenciling, but rather than applying pigment onto a sheet through a stencil, the stencil itself is placed behind the sheet, and the pair are run through the letterpress.  Ink transfers unevenly from the press to the print—a “mistake” in traditional letterpress practices!—according to the presence or absence of the material behind the printed sheet.  In this case, a negative and then a positive stencil were used to create, respectively, the background field (silver) with a silhouette removed, and the foreground figure (variably inked) with the background removed.  Hand inking of the figure produced a stitch-like effect, which continued the monsterish and collage-oriented approach to the print.  In the short edition (limited to 40), no two prints are the same.