Delhi University’s Miranda House is working towards creating an archive of its 72-year-old history told via its alumni through letters, photographs, diaries, memorabilia and ‘ephemera’ to document the history of women in higher education.
The Miranda House Archiving Project was announced on its Founder’s Day on Tuesday but has been a long time in the pipeline. Dr Shweta Jha, a teacher leading the project, said the germ of the idea had been planted over a year ago when she stumbled upon a trunk full of old photographs in the college.
“I was looking for some old magazines in an attic in the college when I found a trunk full of old photographs. Among the ones I found really interesting were old photographs of students travelling on a college trip to Agra and another to what appeared to be Gaya,” she said.
Dr Jha said that preservation is only one part of the project. “Women’s history and the history of higher education are a new interest here. When we think of the past of higher education, we normally look at it through institutions but I thought we could rethink… There are various themes we could explore. One could be women travelling as students. I’m especially keen on looking at women and science. Miranda House has a very strong science department. What was it like for a woman in the 60s to tell her parents that she wants to study zoology or botany? There could also be women and art, the cultural events at which they interacted with men students from different DU colleges, and so on,” she said.
While Dr Jha is working to create a public website of the archive, acting principal Dr Bijayalaxmi Nanda said the college is also looking to create a larger virtual as well as a physical museum. “I’m interested in the telling of the history of a woman’s college. A ‘herstory’ is a narrative. It’s not just about achievements. In an old college magazine, I found a piece written by the first principal about how she had offered sari to students who had come to her home and had been caught in the rain… Narratives of what women students’ access to education had been like, their relationships with their teachers and each other,” said Dr Nanda.
An open call has been made through social media for contributions in the forms of photographs, documents, diaries, “and other ephemera related to college life”. However, this project, like everything else, has also been affected by Covid-19. “I was to start in March. I also wanted to record oral histories by meeting and interviewing alumni. However, that is not possible now due to the risks we could be exposing them to by meeting them. We are now looking at recording podcasts. Another suggestion I had got from an alumnus was recording a group call with her and two of her friends,” said Dr Jha.
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