May. 10, 2010 by embusch
We recently began to look at glass sherds from the Magill site. My thinking about this site has definitely changed over the course of the semester. Something I talked about in my presentation was the change in my thinking about who lived at the Magill site. I had originally thought of all the artifacts as being owned by Captain Magill, whom I now have a better picture of since hearing a classmate’s presentation. However, all of the glass sherds I have recently been examining are from later years. I do not know very much about what was happening at the Magill site after about 1790, although I do know that after the 1830s, Middletown emerged from a post-shipping depression to become more of an industrial center. Throughout the semester, my interest in the individual people who purchased the goods we are looking at has also grown. I wonder about who purchased a cup and why, what they sought through buying it.
Last semester, I did my senior essay about two Jewish female labor organizers who had lifelong relationships with other women. I thought a lot about the affective connection between me and these women. Why was I so interested in them? What did they, as historical figures, offer me? As I think about my relationship to the women who may have handled the artifacts we are looking at now, I feel a similar affective connection. My feelings are some combination of sad and curious. It’s funny to feel sad about imagined figures that one has never known and is not related to. I think it is their invisibility that upsets me, the fact that we do not have access to their thoughts because they were never recorded. This feeling is similar to that which I felt in doing my research on the lives of Rose Schneiderman and Pauline Newman. The past has always interested me in this way. Thinking about consumer agency has only increased my tendency towards empathy with the women of the past.
However, as I have reflected on my senior project, I have had to rethink the framework of visibility. Perhaps there is some benefit to not knowing the “hard facts” about what figures from the past whose diaries and daily activities we do not have access to were thinking. The past, here, can be potentially drawn upon as a source of strength and imagination. I hope to go into my final paper feeling a connection through strength to the women whose lives I am studying. As in some ways I have been attempting to prove through my project, women have agency within their social positions to shape their identities. They are not dupes of the system.