Barnchive: A Swarthmore Project


Samantha Herron ‘18 and Hazlett Henderson ‘17 are undertaking a project of great personal and communal import: collecting and forming into an archive materials from the Barn, an infamous off-campus building that houses Swarthmore students. We have yet to discover who first called our home the “Barn”, but we can assure you that it resembles a barn both inside and out.

As an unofficial college space, the Barn has largely gone undocumented since students began living in it. It contains a rich narrative of student life, however: it is currently a space welcoming to both queer and low-income students, and, based on unearthed news articles, likely has been from the outset. This history means that the “Barnchive” is valuable as an exercise in ‘queering’ the traditional archive, or refuting institutional models and biases of collection. In undertaking this archive, we are recognizing all Barn stories as meaningful histories, and all Barn items as notable artifacts, and therefore breaking with the conventional archival practice of valuing certain stories and individuals over others.

In the end, we envision that our Barnchive will consist of photographed “barnifacts” – objects left in the Barn as students move in and out – and histories, in both oral and written form. It will exist online, in a site that we have edited with Jekyll and in Github, both collaborative and accessible platforms. It is our earnest desire that the digital location of our archive will allow for greater input from Barn residents past and present: perhaps, for example, an alum will identify one of the artifacts we excavate from a closet. For those who would hope to better understand the dynamics of communal living, especially among students of varying backgrounds, we feel confident that this archive will prove worthwhile.