In Common this week: Beyond the Hall

Welcome back fellow Commoners,

I’m going to do things a bit different in this post. Instead of going identifying a particular theme across new content this week on the Commons, I’m going to focus in on several aspects of one site: the conference website for Beyond the Hall.

Beyond the Hall is a conference scheduled for later this month that seeks to confront the unique history that the Bronx Community College (BCC) campus embodies. For a recent EdTech conference I was on the campus recently and so perhaps this seems particularly relevant to me this week.

BCC’s campus is beautiful by any standards, but certainly for an urban university and especially for a CUNY campus. Some of the schools, like Queens College where I teach, are lucky enough to have campuses that “feel” like a college campus–a reminder that the way we approach even something as supposedly universal as learning and knowledge is always based first and foremost in the material.

And the material campus of BCC is primarily from a former NYU campus that CUNY acquired in the 70s when NYU suffered financially and, with the changing demographics of the Bronx, decided that the campus was no longer a good investment.

This means that BCC students inhabit an academic world that, for many of them, would not have been accessible not that long ago. It’s a sobering thought, I think.

Most notable on the campus is the Hall of Heroes which enshrines, literally, in the shape of stone busts, “heroes” who were nominated for their work on behalf of Americans and the Bronx particularly. Yet, and perhaps predictably, almost all of them are white and wealthy, reflecting only one of the demographics that ever lived in the Bronx and hardly reflecting the students who actually use the campus now.

It is this strange history that the conference seeks to engage with. I think it’s a noble cause, too. But most importantly, I think, the conference organizers have sought to make the conference website more than simply an informational site for conference participants. All too often, genuine attempts to deal with history are cordoned off in academia and difficult to access, at the best of times, by everyday folks. The organizers are clearly seeking to change this by making the website a real archive of material about the history of the Bronx.

For that reason, perhaps the biggest contribution is the section of the site which sets of a virtual Hall of Heroes, with user-suggested Heroes. You can see what they’ve done here, in their special site “Visions of Greatness.”

The organizers have also been effective bloggers, releasing information about panelists both as a way of drumming up interest but also consolidating materials for future research.

Looking it over, I’m particularly struck at the care with which this material has been collected. For example, for the post on Elena Martinez, a panelist from the Bronx County Historical Society, collects Bronx-centered materials for researching the musical heritage of the Bronx.

Further, the blog connects to digitization efforts, pointing to projects that participants or community members might want to get involved with. It’s a great example of how the work that begins in a academic conference can continue on after an event.

This is a conference website that rewards poking around. I suggest you take a look and consider ways you can use the Commons in conjunction with your events to engage not only with the community of academics, but with the wider communities we of which we are a part.

Until next week,

Paul

 

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