Article: “What are women’s prisons for?”

Amy Halliday, Chelsea Miller, and Julie Peterson, “‘What are women’s prisons for?’: Gendered states of incarceration and history as an agent for social change,” Museums & Social Issues: A Journal of Reflective Discourse 12, no. 1 (April 2017): 56-66, https://doi.org/10.1080/15596893.2017.1292104.

As the exhibition States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories travels the nation, visitors will explore the roots of mass incarceration in our communities. While mass incarceration has garnered increased media and scholarly attention in recent years, mainstream analyses overlook the role of gender, even as women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population in the United States. This article argues that women’s incarceration and the gendered aspects of the carceral state need to become more prominent in the national narrative, and that museums and public history institutions, in partnership with local communities, have the potential to lead this effort. Archival research and oral history interviews with community activists on the ground shed light on the gendered aspects of incarceration in the United States while, at the same time, amplifying the voices of community members and activists. Doing so provides a model for how museums and public history professionals can become active participants in promoting social change.

Carceral studies, gender, Massachusetts, mass incarceration, oral history, public memory

Halliday et al, “‘What are women’s prisons for?’ Gendered states of incarceration and history as an agent for social change,” MSI 12, no. 1 (April 2017): 56-66.

We extend our gratitude to the individuals who provided their support and expertise throughout our work on this project, including: Lois Ahrens, Marianne Bullock, L. Mara Dodge, Joyce Follet, Solobia Hutchins, Mel Motel, Kathleen Nutter, Olga Pedraza, Samuel Redman, Tina Reynolds, Holly Richardson, Rachel Roth, Loretta Ross, and Christopher Tinson; and to the organizations who supported our research in a multitude of ways: the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition, the Just Schools Project, the Prison Birth Project, Real Cost of Prisons Project, Voices from Inside, the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, the Humanities Action Lab at the New School, and the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We also give many thanks to the editors of Museums & Social Issues and the two anonymous reviewers for their feedback and assistance with this article. Fellow contributors to this project from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Western Massachusetts included: Shakti Castro, Alexandria Champion, Amanda Dente, Hallie Dunlap, Olivia Ekeh, Katherine Fecteau, Jennifer Fronc, Peggy Hart, Anna Holley, Felicia Jamison, Jessica Johnson, Danny McNulty, Marla Miller, Freda Raitelu, Rebekkah Rubin, David Ruyman, Natalie Sherif, and Sean Smeland.

The Public Humanitarium

In June 2016, I participated in a collaborative endeavor to create a website for the Five Colleges, Inc., detailing pathways from undergraduate humanities education to professional careers in the public and applied humanities. The website—part of a larger, two-year project funded by the Five Colleges, Inc. and an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant—seeks to help students, faculty and staff at individual campuses in the Five Colleges, Inc., better tap robust, shared resources.

My work on this project has helped me to better understand the utility of my own humanities education in the Five Colleges. As an alumna of Mount Holyoke College’s Department of History and the Department of Environmental Studies, the UMass Amherst/Five College M.A. program in History, and the UMass Amherst certificate program in Public History, I have been trained in multi-disciplinary research and communication methods that will prove useful, and necessary, for years to come. I can only hope that this project will help other humanities students realize their potential!

Visit The Public Humanitarium: A Five College Public Humanities Connector.

Blog: Reforming Gender and the Carceral State

During the final year of my graduate program, I participated in a national memory project entitled States of Incarceration. This project, organized by the Humanities Action Lab at the New School, consists of a traveling exhibition and an accompanying website. Teams of students and people directly affected by incarceration from 20 cities each explores a history of incarceration in their own community.

UMass Amherst’s contribution examines the history of incarceration in Massachusetts through the lens of gender, “reform,” and Reproductive Justice. The exhibition is currently traveling around the U.S., scheduled to arrive in the Pioneer Valley in February-March 2017 and my hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY, in October 2017.

My role in the project included creating video interviews with prison justice activists in Massachusetts and New York (specifically, Lois Ahrens of the Real Cost of Prisons Project and Tina Reynolds of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory), blog posts about prison justice activism in Western Massachusetts, and an exhibit panel on how the carceral state impacts Massachusetts youth.

I was fortunate to attend the States of Incarceration launch and conference in April 2016, where I had the opportunity to hear Venida Browder talk about her son, Kalief Browder, who endured three years at Rikers Island while awaiting trial, and committed suicide after his release. I was also fortunate to discuss UMass Amherst’s contributions to the exhibit alongside my colleagues Solobia Hutchins (Mother and Activist, Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition) and Amy Halliday (Gallery Director, Hampshire College).

Participating in this project has given me some insights about the role of historians in enacting social change. Of course, we know that looking to the past can help us understand the present and create more just futures. But most importantly, I learned that sometimes we have to step back and recognize that we are not the authority in many matters. Academia provides a position of power and privilege that shields us from many forms of violence and oppression. (I am a white woman with a graduate degree, who has never been arrested or incarcerated.)

Our first task is to use our privileged position to create space for more voices than our own.

Our second task is to listen, and to listen actively.

Reforming Gender and the Carceral State: What Are Women’s Prisons For?


Essay: Discourses of Culture and Sites of Interpretation

This post originally appeared on The Third Space: Textiles in Material and Visual Culture, an online exhibition curated by myself for the Institute for Curatorial Practice. 

“Thus confined to a specific place and reduced to a set of taxonomic segments, art is immobilized, stamped as an essence of eternal history.” — Didier Maleuvre, Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art (1999)

The medium of an online exhibition prompts questions about the possibilities and anxieties surrounding digital reproductions.[1] Since the emergence of mechanical means of reproduction, there has been debate over whether the reproduced image can substitute for the original work of art.

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Essay: Rehistoricizing Material and Visual Culture

This post originally appeared on The Third Space: Textiles in Material and Visual Culture, an online exhibition curated by myself for the Institute for Curatorial Practice. 

“It is that Third Space, though unrepresentable in itself, which constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.” — Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994)[1]

Historian C.A. Bayly has described the long nineteenth century as one of rapidly developing connections between distant human societies, which simultaneously created hybrid polities, complex forms of global economic activity, and a heightened sense of difference between people.[2] In The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914, Bayly focuses particularly on “global uniformities,” tracing the rise of similar forms of state, religion, political ideologies, and economic life in the nineteenth century. He argues that this process of global integration transformed artistic traditions in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Polynesia. Non-European arts borrowed and appropriated European ideas and techniques, while design motifs and styles from around the world made their way into European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.
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Internship Update: The Third Space in Material Culture

This blog post originally appeared on The Harold, and is part of a series of essays, opinions, and reviews written by students, faculty, and staff of the Institute for Curatorial Practice.

As an intern for the Institute for Curatorial Practice, I am particularly struck by ICP’s ability to bring a wide range of collections into one conversation. I saw this in action during the ICP’s summer program. I received a graduate fellowship that enabled me to attend the five-week program and to lead a co-curated digital exhibition, BODY [IN/AS] LANDSCAPE. My teammates and I created an exhibition that explores how human forms and activities transform landscapes, and what new landscapes are produced by an artist’s intervention in the landscape. The exhibition draws from several collections, including the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Hampshire College Special Collections, Smith College Museum of Art, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Mead Art Museum. While these collections are part of the Five College Consortium, they remain separate. But the ICP opens up the possibility of bringing them together. After this summer, I felt inspired by the concept of digital exhibitions.

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body / freedom / art: Rethinking disability through art

This post originally appeared on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See

Smithsonian Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. The blogs are part of the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

What is disability? Performance artist, writer, and actor Neil Marcus encourages his audience to rethink disability as something that is not medical or physiological. Rather, Marcus suggests, “Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” Based on this perspective, Marcus aims to live artfully: non-medically, non-stereotypically, and full of soul.

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