This project was the creation of the combined efforts of a group of colorfully collected and casted characters. Each one brought something of the best that was within them to it. Among them, an artistic, driven Jersey girl, who is all business and no-nonsense. A creative, double major with an interest in Medieval Literature. A descendant of German-stock, from the hill countries of Pennsylvania. A modest, soft-spoken West Virginian, who spent many long and tedious hours scanning pages. And finally, there is the eccentric, shy luddite. Me!
Filmmaker Ken Burns once said, “All real meaning accrues in duration.” The process of doing this project was not unlike how I’ve heard him describe the making of one of his extended narratives, such as Baseball, Jazz, The Civil War, or The War to mention just a few. Doing this project was a labor of love in the truest sense of that term. People often confuse love with like. The fact of the matter is that like is a part of love, but love means so much more. Love is bittersweet, a splendid misery, you take the good with the bad. While the process of doing this was long, tedious, and fraught with tension, it was something I can safely say that we all loved doing.
In some sense it was not unlike how Ken described how he started making films when he was a student at Hampshire College. Rather than go to the University of Michigan, where his father Robert was a cultural anthropologist, he chose to rebel and go to a school heard about by an article he read on the back of a magazine. there he met two people who would become his mentors, Jerome Leibling & Elaine Mayes. Both where amateur still photographers. As Ken put it, “They had a wonderful idea. Hampshire College had some equipment, great faculty-we thought, young and eager students, and no money.” In other words, the perfect formula for success. I believe this is what we may justly call McClurken’s Mania, or Ferrell’s Folly! Whichever you think more aptly applies. In short, its a series of seemingly impossible tasks that somehow turn out for the best.
When you look at this project what you see is twofold. First, what you see is the brainchild of the combined efforts of a group of very skilled individuals. Something that would not have been possible without the combined talents of each individual. This project was never about “I” or “Me!” For all of us, it was always “We!” We accomplishing something together! Secondly, and perhaps most important of all, what you see is a monument.
The monument that I refer to is not the skill or genius of a group of students. Rather taking what the generation that came before us left for us to find and making it more accessible to everyone else. Here we have preserved, protected, and shared the heritage which is ours. A heritage which we their posterity are still adding to. The only part of their memory which is still with us is the one that we are all living and still expanding by leaps and bounds. The fact that once more everyone else can see and hear them means that their most sanguine expectations have been realized. This is a monument not to anyone person or their greatness, but to the part that they played in our school’s existence. And I think to myself, “We are still here!”
The process of doing this project consisted of a balance between embracing modern technologies and tools and old school research work. While Ellen Peiser & Laura-Michal Balderson were busy plugging in all of the necessary technical aspects of the site utilizing Omeka, Jessica Chrisman was busy transcribing almost indecipherable type and handwritten material because OCR software wasn’t cooperating. Meanwhile Ronnie Vest spent this time going into the Special Collections of UMW scanning one by one each page of the core group of the four selected scrapbooks. Two relating to Home Economics, and two from the Young Republicans Club of Mary Washington, all spanning the 1960s. Joining Ronnie in this process was Alex Young. While Ronnie was busy scanning, Alex was busy transcribing the necessary metadata, typing up descriptions, and coming up with the necessary tags. Alex also was responsible for handling the research necessary for the construction of the timeline. For the purposes of constructing the timeline, he focused on four major themes: UMW & Fredericksburg History, National Events, International Events, & Cultural Touchstones. To find these events and dates, he drew on a myriad of resources, such as monographs, documentaries, and websites. While the process was at times murky, because it seemed like we were navigating uncertain currents, nonetheless we were able to accomplish everything we had hoped to, at the very least, on time.
One more thing that I admire about Ken is that while his films have the accompanying line, “A Film By Ken Burns,” there are many other people whose creative energies play a role in that process, which he always acknowledges.
Here are the people who made this possible:
Ellen Peiser, Laura-Michal Balderson, Jessica Chrisman, Ronnie Vest, & Alex Young, to name just a few!