The Archives Are Alive: Meet Christiana Dobrzynski, Bryn Mawr College Archivist

By Emma Nelson and Isabella Nugent, Staff Writers

The archives are not dead. The history of our college and the thousands of students who have made Bryn Mawr so meaningful is not locked behind steel doors; the archives are waiting to entertain, to inform and to inspire. In March of 2016, Christiana Dobrzynski was hired as Bryn Mawr’s first full-time archivist. As she works to make the institutional history of Bryn Mawr universally accessible, Dobrzynski is also embarking on archival projects that will embrace and preserve voices from previously undocumented communities.

In the past, the Bryn Mawr College archives have primarily focused on administrative documentation. However, Dobrzynski aims to close the gap between the identities which have traditionally been represented in the archives and those which have not. In her pursuit to document a wider range of voices, Dobrzynski is currently working on an acquisition from 1968 alumna Judith Mazer. Mazer is a self-identified “Jewish lesbian of size” who is working closely with Dobrzynski to incorporate her photographs, audio recordings, drawings of lesbian erotica and other objects into the archives. Not only do these materials hold valuable insight into the feminist movement in the Bay Area and Mazer’s own activism, but they also represent queer and Jewish identities in the Bryn Mawr community. If histories such as Mazer’s are not preserved, much of Bryn Mawr’s legacy will be lost.

In this same spirit, Dobrzynski is also working on a collection of oral histories, approved by President Kim Cassidy, to accompany this year’s academic programming around the theme of “voice.” During the planning stage, Dobrzynski is reaching out to the Black Alumni Association and LGBTQIA Alumni Affinity Group at Bryn Mawr for assistance with incorporating underrepresented voices into Bryn Mawr’s history. This more holistic approach to documentation is works toward Dobrzynski’s goal of expanding the archives to reflect the wide variety of paths taken by Bryn Mawr alumnae. Many activists, especially those who identify as women, Dobrzynski explains, did not think what they were doing was important enough to be documented.

Dobrzynski is excited at the prospect of forming a more even-level relationship between the archives and the students, faculty and staff of Bryn Mawr. In order to facilitate this, she is collaborating with digital collections librarian Rachel Appel to collect and maintain the social media landscape of today’s students. This form of proactive documentation attempts to preserve a broader representation of student life and opinion. Dobrzynski hopes that these collections will become a catalyst for discussions on transparency and public access to the Bryn Mawr archives. “We keep things under lock and key,” Dobrzynski explained, “but only so it’s preserved for you.”

For Dobrzynski, student voices are critical in defining Bryn Mawr’s legacy and how that legacy is recorded. Under her work and her collaborations, students from every background will be able to see themselves documented in the history of Bryn Mawr. Additionally, Dobrzynski’s work to encourage an open and ongoing dialogue about the archives will enable others to use the archives as “a touchstone for deeper conversations.” The archives are not only alive, but they are growing.

From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016

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