Mysteries of the Desert

As mentioned previously, due to the nature of the current phase in which we are archiving Barbara Drake’s collection, I have given myself much more freedom to engage with the specific materials. This past week, I found myself lost in the research Drake had compiled regarding ancient Indigenous history, and the artifacts that contributed to some of this understanding. Doing so, I learned a word I had never heard before– intaglio.

An intaglio, or a geoglyph, can be found prominently in the stretch of desert that connects Arizona to California. Their ancient construction resulted from the displacement of dark stones to reveal the light soil underneath, etchings that created a permanent symbol of prehistoric ancestries. According to an April 1989 issue of Arizona Highways these etchings are believed to be anywhere from 150, to 5,000 years old. Additionally, these etchings range anywhere from 20 feet in diameter, to over 150 feet. One intaglio, 75 miles west of Phoenix, measures an incredible 300 feet. These intaglios bear the resemblance of human figures, snakes, lizards, mountain lions and other geometric shapes. So, what does it all mean? Archaeologists mainly contend that these geoglyphs were intended to communicate with Native gods. The tone of communication exists on a speculative continuum ranging from praise and honor, to cries for help, imploring divine intervention to assuage the cruelty of an unrelenting and changing landscape. The aforementioned geoglyphs provide a peek into a time where the veil between spirituality and mortality might have been thinner.

These relics of a distant past, and their mystery, illustrate how much history was lost to colonialism. Not only did colonizers do their best to eradicate the powerful Native themselves, they simultaneously robbed future persons of enculturated sources for which clues to human history might exist. Due to the genocidal force that perpetuated colonialism, much of the primary, secondary or even tertiary source material regarding the spirituality of the ancient Native has been lost. Luckily, caretakers of culture and heritage, like Barbara Drake and her fellow Indigenous peoples, have preserved what is left and seek to reclaim what is yet to be discovered.

Intaglio of the Arizona desert.
“The Fisherman” (left)– a geoglyph photographed for Arizona Highways April, 1989 issue.

American History: The Unabridged Version

This week the Barbara Drake collection has undergone a sort of restructuring. Materials are being sorted into more specific categories and the collection has started to take somewhat of a shape. Due to the extensive nature of Barbara’s contribution, we are still a long way from finality. Sitting with Barbara’s materials this week, in an effort to ascribe items to subject-matter specific categories, I took more time than usual indulging the curated research.

History was always my favorite subject in primary school. I had a second grade teacher who put together a slideshow of early 1900s Los Angeles, I was transfixed by how different the world seemed. There was no Staples Center or Walt Disney Concert Hall. There was no Geffen or Phillipe’s (though depending on the year of the photos, it would be soon to come). The roads were suspiciously absent of BMWs and Honda Civics. It wasn’t until too many years later that I realized Spanish colonizers did not birth Los Angeles, as I had been told, rather the Tongva had. Just like many facets of American history, fashioned to be palatable for American children, this was yet another important fact that had been conveniently left out of the textbooks. Many years out of primary school, I can say that had I been taught the unabridged history then, it would have helped me conceptualize America’s tumultuous history much sooner. Much sooner would I have understood who rightfully owned my beloved Los Angeles. I am fortunate to be an informal student of Barbara’s materials, through which she has gracefully and posthumously educated me on the real history of America– before the Americans. This collection, for me, has highlighted the grave disservice we do to our public school children when we obfuscate such history from them. However, this collection will be a great resource for those interested in ecology, Indigenous ethnohistory, archaeology and more. With scholars like Barbara, determined to leave the world better and more informed than they found it, those who engage with her materials (and materials like hers) can facilitate an honest understanding of America’s true history.

Wrap-Up Reflections

            This week, I put the finishing touches on my exhibit and published it to the CCEPS Omeka website. Wrapping up the project, I get to reflect on the experience of engaging with primary sources, digitizing them, and presenting them to be read by the public. After this summer, I feel much more equipped to complete humanities-based research. I’ve learned how to review literature and find relevant secondary sources and databases. More interesting, however, is the new perspective I gained towards the process of data analysis. As a statistics student, I work a lot in large sets of raw data. The primary sources are, in many ways, like that raw data. To researchers, by themselves, large volumes of magazines are very difficult to interpret without first deciding which data is most important to look at, and what they are looking for within that data. They then must come up with a process for organizing and analyzing the data. 

            We, as researchers, get to influence truth by framing and choosing which data to include and deem relevant in our projects. We can seek to process materials responsibly, but we must also recognize our biases going into projects. I wanted to find a point to prove when I entered this project, but I learned that the data was far too large, expansive, and incomplete to prove one large point. If I want to continue my research in the future, I must find more qualifiable and specific data to trace a specific phenomenon. I home that through my broad framing of the primary source data available at the Claremont Colleges Library and Ella Strong Denison Library, I can encourage others to access the materials which will hold so many answers when we learn to ask strong questions. 

The Influence of Location

            As I spent much of this week scanning the materials I want to use for my exhibit, I reflected much on the nature of imagery and photography. Current magazines print mostly photographs, but magazines have been printed since long before the invention of photography. Early magazines included fashion plates, which involved an artist drawing the current fashions, engraving a steel fashion plate, and printing it. These prints were then hand colored. This was a very basic technology and required that the sketch have a certain level of simplicity so that it could be engraved into the steel fashion plate and easily colored. Photography allowed the images of fashion to be much more accurate and detailed. It also allowed the women modelling fashion to be in a certain place. 

From Harper’s Bazaar August 1957 Issue

            The location of the photo shoot plays a big role in developing the identity attached to the fashion. Fashion shoots took place in cities, in natural settings, and overseas. Each decision around setting meant something to the reader. Was the fashion meant for a city girl? A country girl? Fashions shot in the West, in places like California, were described in accompanying captions differently than those shot in the industrial cities of the East. This also made me think of modern-day Instagram influencers, who use backdrops to say something about their own identities when showing off fashions. Are they thrill-seeking travelers, relaxed beachgoers, or metropolitan workers? And if you wear the same clothes that they do, are you channeling those same identities? 

Under Fire

Around fire season every year, I often reflect on our California hillsides. And while over recent years the dialogue has advanced from managing foothill wildfires to climate change and unprecedented forest fires, I still get into the weeds, mulling over questions about ecological restoration, conservation, agricultural practice, and bioengineering. Today, it was a bit of synchrony coming across “The Land of the People” in A Journey to Tovangar by Mark Frank Acuna in the Drake collection.

Similar to Naomi Klein’s distinction, I’ve always separated two approaches to ecological/environmental restoration: bioengineering or letting nature heal itself. I have often erred to the side of letting nature heal itself and for human mitigation, especially around the development and practice of new technologies, to be minimal if at all. The thinking was always that nature could best heal itself over man’s hubris. This train of thought would often extend to my viewpoints that perhaps devalued the celebration of agricultural practices. I had over years lamented the idea and colonial logic that an agricultural turn signaled the progress of mankind, cleaving the civilized from the barbarian.

On reading Acuna’s paper, he offered a novel provocation to this line of thinking for me. He submitted that the California hillsides we see today would be completely unrecognizable to the Tongva and indigenous populations of the Southern California pre-twentieth century. He argues that it was not because they were more lush or wild, but that the hillsides were in fact profuse with oak trees that were cultivated and managed by indigenous tribes.

Acuna writes, “When the Spanish came through in their first years of conquering encounter, they all noted the park like vistas and the open clear Oak forests. They had not entered the wilderness but a well managed landscape. Even as late as 1844, John Fremont noted that ‘…the…groves of oaks give the appearance of orchards in an old cultivated country” (Fremont in Pavlik, 105). Somewhat similar to groves seen today, the forests were landscaped to be absent of grasses or competing tree species. They were open and “light-filled,” stretching from the mountains all the way to the sea, we individuals could walk “never having to leave the comforting shade of the Oaks” (Acuna, 17).

It is unknown exactly when this happened, but eventually indigenous tribes in the region became more and more reliant on acorns, “Kwar.” Horticulture techniques were developed between neighboring tribes and the Tongva became tenders and keepers of the Oaks (Weht). Three techniques were used in managing the vast oak forests: first, was a “careful and precise” fire to clear underbrush (which would reduce the pests and diseases often attributed to affecting forests and spur grass and forb seed production); second, they used long flexible poles to harvest acorns and prune (encouraging lateral growth to increase the size of the canopy); and lastly, methodically weeding the forests.

Acuna writes, “Two hundred years later, these managed chaparral and hillsides would be wilder and more deadly than they had been to the Tongva” (Acuna, 18). He admonishes the California Legislature and State and Federal Forestry agencies in the 1920’s who halted woodland burning for not even trying to understand or learn from indigenous practices. Returning it to the what they’d consider an “original” landscape was informed by a legacy of the missionary policy to “civilize” the Tongva by “denaturalizing them” (Acuna, 19).

Balance, care, and respect for the land, its people, and the sacred have vital roles to play in our contemporary thinking of ecological restoration. It will be critical to listen and not fall into the trappings of modern ideals, innovations, or hubris.

The 1960’s: A Decade of Fashion For The Individual

This week I looked at Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar magazines from the second half of the 20thcentury. One of the most interesting issues I saw was a 1965 issue of Vogue entitled “The New Way: to be in fashion and stay an individual.” The 1960’s is the first time I’ve witnessed the theme of individuality in women’s fashion magazines. This focus on individuality in the 1960’s was not limited to fashion—many sought individuality in ideological thought in reaction to the political turbulence of the time. This showed me how technology may have aided individuality as an aspect of identity, but other factors, both social and political, also influenced the development of individual identities over time. Vogue repeatedly encouraged women to express that individuality through fashion in the 1960’s. This may have been a pivotal moment in linking fashion so strongly to individual identity.   

Intentional Archiving

Having just finished Rundel’s collection, I now pivot to Barbara Drake’s. Once on this archival table were 17th and 18th century maps of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia produced and reproduced by colonial Europe for atlases. Now in front of me are a variety of sources, artifacts, printed matter, and ephemera of a contemporaneous indigenous America(s), specifically Tongva.

For some period of time, I’ve sat waiting for the right kind of silence to write this. My fingers hover over the keys as I stare at the tubs of folders, flyers, pictures, articles, and documents. I ruminate over the contrast and comparisons of historical discourse in both collections. What is difference in “pasts” offered in both projects? Epistemological questions and thoughts emerge with some urgency and vitality, but perhaps ontology keeps my forehead firmly pressed against my knuckles.

I must acknowledge I’m feeling the weight and responsibility in reporting my work for the Drake collection much more than with Rundel’s. In both, my position was and is etic. But, I am mestizo. Likewise, the maps were produced by Europe to help colonization efforts. They were made for biased knowledge production and consumption. Critical analysis of colonial instrumentation is a craft I have gained over time. Likewise, the material concerned my background. It was, in a sense, personal.

Drake’s collection is a unique and vulnerable experience for me, not in its processing, but in my writing about it. Because, my writing is not just about my thinking but a description of my actions. My actions will have an effect on future research. It reflects my intentionality. My writing will describe how I intend to organize, arrange, and order the material. It exposes my positionality and reflexivity–all of which are essential. How I choose to understand the sources. It concerns matters of access, language, and care.

My personal research is in ethnography and public history. I work with communities in East Los Angeles concerning matters of environmental and social justice. Not only do I try to produce new research but I participate in community activism and help build their archive. With the intersection and interspecies relations of animals, nature, and humans being my primary focus, I hope to learn a great deal from this collection.

Already, I find myself spending perhaps too long reading the articles and studying the documents on linguistics. I look forward to further working on this collection while also thinking deeply about my work.

The Magazines I Did Not See

Last week provided the opportunity to reflect on the nature of special collections and the preservation of historic materials. I intended to look at fashion magazines from the early 20th century but found that there were very few in our holdings at Denison Library. I began to develop hypotheses as to why this might be. Perhaps it was due to the founding of Scripps College in 1926—maybe magazines at this time were not preserved because of the relative newness of the college, and not donated later on because women no longer collected and bound volumes of magazines.  Maybe the economic hardships caused by World Wars I and II and the Great Depression led to less magazine purchases and printings. 

 I decided to research this phenomenon and found that magazines were printed and consumed during the early 20thcentury, but they contained more advertisements and Hollywood gossip than the traditional literary magazine. Initially, short stories were printed serially in magazines with the intent to enrich the minds of the reader. As advertisers became more interested in purchasing magazine space, and films led to a new interest in Hollywood, the magazine industry shifted to meet different demands from the public. This would mean that the magazines contained less information that would be pertinent beyond this season in which it was published. I imagine this is one of the reasons why magazines were not bound into volumes and saved as they had previously been in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

This week taught me that it can be just as important to consider which materials we do not have. Whose stories were not deemed “literary” or important to contain in a library? As I read a historical account of Women’s Periodicals claiming to study only “mainstream” magazines, I noticed that the author identified mainstream to mean white and middle-class. This book was written in the early 2000’s. Our society, for too long, valued the history that was pertinent to this narrow “mainstream”. As I continue my research, I intend to showcase not only what the library has collected, but also what it may be missing. I hope that through online archives, I will be able to reveal the missing pieces in the exhibit.  

Arizona Highway

When I was a pre-teen I devoured magazines. I used to shuffle through the mail every day, hoping to find that the month’s issue of Seventeen, Teen Vogue or Allure had arrived. I admired the art of carefully curated images around an up and coming trend, intentionally beguiling and glossy. As I returned to sorting Barbara’s collection, I was pleased to find that she too enjoyed the comfort of a magazine. However, unlike the fashion magazines from my pre-teen years, the magazines Barbara preserved were much more profound. Rather than the pages weighing in on which lip gloss shade was perfect for summer, as mine had, the magazines from the Drake collection covered topics like accessorizing an outfit with Indigenous jewelry.

Specifically, Drake had preserved many issues of Arizona Highway, a magazine that has “captured the beauty and splendor of Arizona since 1925”. As someone who has only been to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and Phoenix once, through the publication I was exposed to landscapes of Arizona that I had not yet seen. More importantly, much of the content Drake saved touches on the Indigenous history of the land. Many of the photos capture Indigenous landscapes and visually pay homage to the cultures that founded the areas. Through reading her materials I learned about Arizona’s rich repository of Native basket weaving, whereby the traditions of the Hopi, Apache, and others are displayed through this medium. Consequently, they are more than baskets, they are fixtures of history.

Early Women’s Periodicals

This week passed in a whirl of empire waistlines, girdles, and bonnets with plumes. I’ve decided on a topic for my research in philosophy of technology and women’s fashion magazines—identity. I hope to explore the ways in which technological changes have allowed for hyper-individualized identities as expressed by adherence to certain fashion trends. Through this exploration, I will gain a better understanding of how and why identities tended away from geographic location (such as ‘southern’) and towards more niche identities based on shared experience of race, sexuality, aesthetic preference, or value systems.  

Going in chronological order, I began viewing the earliest women’s publications, starting in the late 18th century. I then continued through the 19th century. From about 1750-1865, publications were still relatively expensive. As a result, they focused on providing literary enrichment and fashion news for the elite, those who could read and afford to purchase the magazines. However, around 1865, magazines began to focus on a wider readership. Technological advancements of thinner, cheaper paper, “Linotype” letterpress setters, and advancements in replicating drawings all allowed for magazines to be produced for a middle-and even lower-class audience. The broader audience encouraged the use of advertisements to fund magazines. As a result, magazines became even cheaper as they were funded by advertisers rather than the full burden of production cost falling on the consumer. 

As a result of these technological innovations, content of the magazines began to target those who made their own clothes, rather than only women with dressmakers. Instructions for patterns began to appear in issues, such as the one below. It is from the Peterson’s Magazine March 1887 issue. 

Instructions for Sewing One’s Own Jacket of the Latest Parisian Style, March 1887

Another interesting technological change which impacted appeals to identity was the development of more vivid paints. Fashion plates were hand-painted, and as this process became more refined and elaborate over the course of the 19th century, more attention was devoted to coloring the skin of the women wearing the dresses. In 1845, the women (while still having a distinctly “European” look) lacked any distinguishing color beyond the occasional dot of red blush on the cheeks. By 1876, the women were cleared painted a vivid peachy shade. This shows that as technology advanced, the women were identified by race or skin color in the fashion plates.  

Early Fashion Plate from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, 1845
Fashion Plate from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, 1876