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Exhibitions celebrate Women's History Month at UNC

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Graphic by Sonia Zhu

Throughout Women’s History Month, students and faculty members have had the opportunity to explore female experiences and intersectional identities across three separate University Libraries’ exhibitions. 

Climbing the Hill

“Climbing the Hill,” one of the library exhibitions, was developed by students in HIST 179H, Women in the History of UNC-Chapel Hill. The project explores the history of women as students, enslaved laborers, lodging house and food service workers, faculty wives and other roles, Katherine Turk, associate professor of history and the teacher for the course, said. 

Turk guided the students in their creation of the project with the help of North Carolina Research and Instruction Librarian Sarah Carrier, Special Collections Exhibits Coordinator Rachel Reynolds and Humanities for the Public Good Graduate Fellow Lara Lookabaugh. 

Originally intended to be a physical exhibition in Wilson Library featuring historical artifacts accompanied by a walking tour throughout campus, "Climbing the Hill" explores the experiences of women on the UNC campus virtually due to the pandemic. 

Despite the disruption, Turk said the transition to a virtual tour had a silver lining: a permanent space on the internet. 

“There was a kind of comfort in the fact that those pieces will live forever,” she said. “If we had put up the exhibit, and I think it was supposed to stay up through the summer, but it would have been long gone years ago.”

Turk said students recognized the nuances of history where achievements can be celebrated and continuing inequalities can be recognized. 

“The students did not want to tell a triumphalist story,” Turk said. “I often feel that I have to teach against the assumption that history is a sort of forward march to progress, that things just kind of inevitably change for the better.”

Students can access the "Climbing the Hill" virtual tour online.

Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History Library

In the Stone Center library, books focusing on womanism and Black feminism feature authors and activists such as Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These women focused on the lived experiences of Black women and how the intersection between race and gender shaped their lives as well as the oppression they faced. 

Layla Hunter and Anthony Dicks III created the book display. Alongside the exhibited books, a TV screen tells the stories of several important Black female activists, and a paper timeline of the womanist movement described its journey through the ages.  

The quote from Black feminist and poet Audre Lorde “If I didn’t define myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive,” is the title of the exhibit.

According to the center’s description of the collection, as feminism failed to acknowledge the various struggles Black women faced in addition to misogyny, they created their own movement instead. 

Students can visit the book display in the Stone Center Library.

Music Library 

In the Music Library, female musicians and composers are in the spotlight. 

Head of the Southern Folklife Collection and Interim Music Librarian Steven Weiss and Music Library Manager Margaret Neville selected a wide variety of female musicians and composers for their Women’s History Month display, focusing on diversity in identity, time period and geographic location.

“I don't know if it was necessarily conscious, but it really worked out that way,” Weiss said. “I would also add, I think, part of our effort is to show the diversity of the holdings here and what's available as resources for students on campus.”

Additionally, Neville said she focused on female composers, especially Black female composers who have often been overlooked throughout history. 

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In addition to addressing this intersectionality, Neville said the decision allowed displays from Black History Month to be paired with Women’s History Month.

“There's definitely a gap of the knowledge of female composers and especially female African American composers as well,” Neville said. “So we also kind of blended in our Black History Month display to Women's History Month as well.”

As much as diversity and intersectionality remained a focus of this display, Weiss and Neville still included many musicians from North Carolina, such as Nina Simone and Elizabeth Cotten.

“Something we've tried to do as much as we can is trying to connect because so many of the students that attend UNC are from North Carolina, to connect them with musicians who are also from the state.”

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