Dead Media Class Project

Stefana Breitwieser

These recordings were digitized for a seminar in Dead Media at Hampshire College. This project examines the lifecycle and preservation of reel-to-reel audio tapes, and tries to set an agenda for archivists, historians, and media specialists to better understand each other.

These recordings are from the 1968-1969 school year at Smith College, focusing on the Curriculum Committee and student panels debates on the future of the school. This was a time when there was avid discussion about what education should look like, and not even Smith College was insulated from the turbulence of the 1960s and 70s.

While some of these conversations are mundane–the usefulness of a language requirement or the number of classes needed to fulfill a major for example–other suggestions are quite radical. One student panel has an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of making Smith co-educational. Though this may sound tame to contemporary ears, it is important to remember that almost all higher education spaces were single-sex during this era. Indeed, Yale and Princeton only began admitting female students in 1969; Harvard admitted women outside of their sister school, Radcliffe, in 1970. Some students felt strongly that co-education should go both ways and it was only fair that Smith open its doors to men.

These tapes may prove useful to scholars of higher education both as a window into the past and a way of framing the present. The Curriculum Committee’s discussion surrounding single-sex education remain useful today. With Smith’s recent decision to admit transgender women following the sudden collapse of Sweet Briar College, the meaning and relevance of single-sex education in the 21st century is still up for debate. Similarly, the Jesse H. Shera lecture on the importance of libraries can inform the school's current renovation of Neilson Library. Even their conversations surrounding distribution requirements and the need for Women’s History courses prove useful as we discuss the possibility of adding a social justice component to the mandatory curriculum. As always, the past informs the present, and there is much to be gained from revisiting important debates from our institution’s history.

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