Archival Materials into Documentary Film
Instructor Commentary by Michael Kramp
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 My fall 2011 English and Women’s Studies upper-level undergraduate class, Theories of Masculinity, was designed to coordinate with the fortieth anniversary of admitting undergraduate women to Lehigh University. A major component of this course was a student-produced documentary film that considers the effects of coeducation on men and masculinity at Lehigh. This film project provided my students with an opportunity to examine critically Lehigh’s institutional history, focusing on the late 1960s and early 1970s. While it was not my initial intention, I was extremely pleased by the students’ abilities to research and study their own school’s history. They made extensive use of Lehigh’s Archives and Special Collections to collect numerous articles, documents, and perhaps most importantly, photographs, and they incorporated these materials into the different sections of the film (see Figures 1-6, below). Students discovered several cultural texts from the 1960s and 1970s that portrayed Lehigh as a haven for privileged masculinity, a sphere in which men appeared largely ignorant of the volatile civil rights movement and the emergent mid-century women’s movement. And yet, my students’ research also revealed that the Lehigh community of this era was also clearly cognizant of impending social changes. As my students tracked this tension between the ossification of male hegemony and the certainty of coming shifts, they developed a newfound appreciation for the importance of institutional history to the present operations of a university.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The prominence of Greek life is certainly one such feature of this legacy. Two of the four segments of the film address the role of fraternities and Greek social life, including the final section, which focuses on men and masculinity in Lehigh’s contemporary culture. The students who explored Lehigh’s mid-century Greek culture found ample textual evidence of its importance, including photographs, yearbook coverage, and film footage. When students interviewed alumni from the 1960s and 1970s, the men reported that Greek life had waned significantly in the years following coeducation. But when other students spoke with current male and female students, these individuals emphasized the enduring importance of fraternities and sororities to the culture of Lehigh. In addition, the group of filmmakers who focused on the period prior to coeducation highlighted the ways in which women were brought to campus for Saturday evening social events such as dances. My students interviewed several alumni who commented on the awkwardness of such activities, for both the men and the women. They even include a telling newspaper story in which Cedar Crest College, a small women’s college in nearby Allentown, is referenced as the bordello of Lehigh Valley. The student filmmakers who covered the years immediately following coeducation also treated the clumsiness of men’s interactions with women; they point to challenges in managing facilities and planning building construction, developing female athletics, and integrating women into extra-curricular clubs and organizations, such as the marching band. The filmmakers who treated contemporary conceptions of masculinity within the Lehigh community explicitly referenced the enduring legacy of sexual inequality and the perceived intellectual inferiority of women. They cited recent newspaper accounts on persistent gender inequities on campus and conducted numerous interviews on the topic. While it may very well have been unintentional, these students never interviewed a male and female subject together; instead, they consistently showed pairs of male students, suggesting the extant homosocial culture of Lehigh.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 I wanted my students to engage the history and culture of Lehigh through film technology because it would provide them with an opportunity to artistically synthesize a variety of different kinds of texts (photos, newspaper articles, found film footage, interviews, etc.). The film medium also allowed my students to share their work in public forums, respond to questions and concerns, and discuss their own research and artistic strategies. In effect, the film project allowed my students to contribute to the very institutional history of Lehigh University that they were researching. The archival work my students completed for this film has effectively introduced them to both the depths of information housed in Lehigh’s Special Collections and the profound relevance of institutional history to their own educational experiences. As I reflect upon the experience, there is no doubt in my mind that the most important single component of this process was done long before this class started; the cataloguing and digitization of the university newspaper and annual yearbooks made such a classroom project possible. The film has allowed students, faculty, and alumni to look back into Lehigh’s past, and, while this project has undoubtedly opened some uncomfortable topics and discussions, it has also reminded current and former members of the Lehigh community of their shared history.