Behind the Scenes

The Placing Memory website is a platform where multiple voices coexist in the same space, sometimes aligning with each other and sometimes conflicting. There is not a singular, linear history of Southwestern, and not a singular collective memory of the people, places, and events here. 

The key to making it work this way was to involve current Southwestern students in the process of researching and critiquing the institution they call home.

Each student author and photographer is identified by name. Our goal has been to create a living, multivocal archive that counters the tendency of schools like Southwestern to iron out differences of perspective and adopt a singular institutional voice.  

You will see the names of the Summer 2023 student researchers throughout the entries in the site, and they are pictured above, posing in the Cullen Tower.  From left to right: Andrea Stanescu, Shawn Maganda, Harper Randolph, Hannah Jury, Max Colley, Michelle Taing, Bettina Castillo, Ava Zumpano, Adrianna Flores-Vivas,  and Teddy Hoffman. (One other team member, Lainey Gutierrez, is not pictured.)  Bettina Castillo also designed the Placing Memory logo.

All of the entries included in the site reflect the informed perspectives of student researchers who have wrestled directly with archival materials, interview data, secondary sources, and the materiality of particular sites on campus. We have done our best to be factually accurate in all of our entries while also being true to our perspectives as critically engaged members of the Southwestern community with different identities and experiences.

The initial phase of research for the project occurred in the summer of 2023. This work, which generated the overall concept for the website and developed the first 70 student entries, was carried out over eight weeks by a team of 11 Southwestern student researchers collaborating with Bob Bednar, Project Director, Professor of Communication Studies, and 1989 Southwestern alumnus, and Megan Firestone, Head of Special Collections & Archives.

To make the entries more accessible, we adopted journalistic modes of writing and attributing sources instead of the ones associated with academic writing, with their heavy reliance on citations.

All of the research was funded by a “Reframing the Institutional Saga” grant provided by NetVUE/CIC (Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education and Council of Independent Colleges). 

We started the summer doing some training in archive research and discussing some common readings on the cultural politics of memory and place on college campuses and some readings about the campus climate at Southwestern in particular. From there, we worked together to identify broad topic areas and specific people, places, and events we wanted to research overall and as individual researchers. And then each student set their own agenda for their research and got to work.

Along the way, we did a few group field trips to learn more about the dominant accounts of Southwestern’s history embedded in the campus’s current commemorative landscape as well as to do more direct site analyses of places on campus we were interested in.

Thanks also to the generosity of the Smith Library staff, we had the Prothro Room on the second floor of the Library devoted to our work for the entire 8 weeks. This allowed us to maximize our collaborations and regular contact with each other while also giving us a home base as we spread out into different places in the Library--and on the decks outside--to research, draft, and edit the first wave of entries. 

Because the new archive of entries we were building would not go live as the Placing Memory website until the end of the summer, we tracked the entries physically with map pins on a printed map mounted on foam core. There is a picture of that physical map at the top of this page.

Each week, we cheered on each writer who submitted an entry, and got more and more excited about the project as the pins started to spread out and fill in across the campus map.

We performed the research with a set of questions. When we encountered someone’s name on campus, we asked ourselves, “Who is that person? What is their connection to Southwestern? What are they being remembered for? What does that remembrance forget or deemphasize about that person? Whose interests are served by this remembrance, and whose interests are obscured or denied?”

When we discovered an intriguing but unfamiliar person connected to Southwestern or an intriguing but unfamiliar event in the archives, including in old Sou’Wester yearbooks and old issues of the Megaphone newspaper, we asked ourselves, “Why is that person or event not actively remembered on campus? If we did decide to actively remember that person or event actively on campus, why and how would we do it?”

To learn more about the background, context, and purpose of the Placing Memory project, follow the links below:

The Legacy of Southwestern's History as an Institution

Southwestern's Dominant Institutional Saga

Scholarly and Cultural Context

About the Placing Memory Project