Spreak in the Archives, Day 1

My campus is (finally) on Spring Break (Spreak) this week, and I am spending much of it far away, in the hills of Western Massachusetts at Smith College for a research trip. I am investigating the papers of the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA), which was a radical, progressive, intersectional-before-the-word-existed feminist political group. Specifically, I’m interested in their use of theatre and/or street drama to advocate for their causes. So far, I’ve found quite a lot of “stuff,” and a good deal of it related to drama.

But first, Smith College could not be more delightful, even though the weather today was awful: gray and cold with a constant drizzle. While it took me a little effort to find my way to the archive reading room itself, the staff was super helpful and everything was really easy to do. So, I tackled about 4 boxes today, with plans to do about 4 or 5 tomorrow. I can also work for a bit on Wednesday, if needed. So, what am I finding?

-The TWWA performed a handful of self-written skits at their annual International Women’s Day (IWD) events, which started in 1975, and which ended around 1980. These skits were slice of life style vignettes, featuring characters facing everyday problems, such as waiting in a welfare office, trying to find time to cook dinner and make the political meeting, or struggling on a teacher’s salary. More analysis will be needed to make sense of all of these skits, but initially they seem to function as clear, simple ways of de-stigmatizing aspects of poverty and family life that persons of color might deal with every day.

-The TWWA has some interesting overlap with my other research topic, the Free Southern Theatre (FST), in that both groups emphasized self-criticism and reflection, through evaluation and record keeping. Both groups also seem interested in their own histories, which shows through multiple versions of their “origin story” and timelines, etc. I am sure this is so members, new and old, can have the benefit of knowing their group has a trajectory and is going somewhere.

-And, as with any archive dive, there are always the odd, the funny, and the interesting bits that aren’t relevant to your project, but which catch your attention anyway. Today, it was a letter from a core member about her move back to the Bay area, and how she wants to have a shared political focus with her husband, because they were both activists, but she wanted something they could be doing together.

Archive work is slow and painstaking, and sometimes it’s stressful to make sure you are getting the information you need or might want, since time is always limited. But I’m staying organized with a really helpful scanner app on my phone that lets me take pictures and then immediately upload them to my Dropbox cloud storage. So I should be able to go through my research in a less stressful manner.

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