Digging deeper into the events of the past

Work on the student protest exhibit continues, although at a slower pace than I had originally anticipated. What I had initially envisioned as a fairly cut-and-dry project focusing on clearly defined events threatens to expand exponentially. This is of course only natural when examining complex historical events, with different perspectives, involved groups, etc. Too often we suffer from the collective delusion that historical events can be easily boiled down into a concise narrative, when the reality is always more complex. This is the beauty and the challenge of archival records. While they allow us unprecedented access into the background of the past it is all too easy to get lost in the minutia.

This project has me working in many ways in the dual role of an archivist and a historian. My goal is to present a balanced and diverse exhibit for the public, but my own choices will weigh heavily on the tone of the final product. Much like a historian who publishes their research after filtering events through their own lens, I have the ability to shape perception of events. Ideally, such an exhibit should stimulate interest and inspire people to do research of their own, but for many people this may be the only time they ever examine the events I am presenting. With this in mind I continue to pull in materials from many sources, to paint as complete a picture as I can.

I have already pulled a variety of newspaper clippings, both textual and photographic, as well as student government records. While original photos will always be preferable, in many cases the originals do not survive, or exist only in the hands of the original photographer. I have pulled a number of photographic negatives from the archives’ collections for use, but there were less related to some events than I would have hoped. Some events, such as the 1968 Little 500 sit-in, have virtually no photographic evidence surviving, be it newspaper or pictures. Whether this is the result of concerted squelching of coverage at the time (not unheard of), or simply the peccadillos of time is impossible to say. In any case, we are left with a sole photograph in the 1969 Arbutus yearbook to illustrate the story. This is an extreme example, but it can be a frustrating challenge for someone trying to bring visual interest to an exhibit.

Mary Ann Wynkoop’s 2002 book Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University has been invaluable to me, as it has allowed me to stitch events together in my head far more efficiently than if I were left to my own devices. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in 1960’s student protest movements in the Midwest.

By next week I hope to have some items scanned to spice up these posts of mine a bit more.
Until then.

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