Summer Centered: Bringing the Story of the Lenape to Campus
Alex Rodriguez-Gomez ‘23 and Lily Sweeney ‘23 are working together in Lutnick Library to create digital and physical exhibits detailing the contemporary circumstances of the Lenape Nation.
Rising seniors Alex Rodriguez-Gomez and Lily Sweeney have always believed in the importance of understanding one’s surroundings, environment, and history. For that reason, they have collaborated with the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania (LNPA) to create an exhibit in Lutnick Library investigating the contemporary art and artists of the Nation. The LNPA are descendants of a segment of the historic Lenape nation who went into hiding to stay on their homeland while other parts of their community were pushed westward. Sweeney and Rodriguez-Gomez were connected to the Nation through the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship’s partnership with the LNPA, and through discussion between the Academic Liaison of the Nation Adam Waterbear DePaul and the Head Librarian Terry Synder.
Working from Lutnick Library, the pair is researching how the art and culture of the LNPA has evolved for the present moment, be it in their clothing, drums, or books. Sweeney will use her findings to curate a physical exhibit in Lutnick’s White Gallery that will be displayed from January to July of next year.
“The physical designing of the exhibit is a little different from the usual academic work I have done at Haverford,” said the history major. “But, in the same way you use language to communicate ideas to your audience in an essay, the physical layout of the exhibit has an argument and influences the visitor’s experience. It’s just using a different medium.” She has been focusing on designing the item labels, wall text, and catalog essay while also precisely planning the exhibit’s physical layout and appearance.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez-Gomez is creating a digital companion to her work, designing a website to be paired with the exhibit.
“I'm responsible for a wide range of tasks, like taking photos of the exhibit items, writing content for the website pages, and conducting interviews with the artists who created the items, to edit into video content,” the environmental studies major said. He, along with Sweeney, are corresponding regularly with DePaul, who is also the Storykeeper for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, to ensure all information in the digital and physical exhibits is accurate and centering the Lenape.
Rodriguez-Gomez’s interests in environmental justice and place-based advocacy in education drew him to the project.
“It's important to me to understand the history of what's immediately around you, and to cultivate a relationship with the land and people wherever you are,” he said. He sought to combine that interest with his experience in the libraries at Haverford, where he has worked since his first year.
“This internship engages in that kind of work,” he continued, “and in the end will allow people visiting the gallery, online or in person, to engage as well, and begin getting to know their Lenape neighbors.”
Sweeney expressed a similar sentiment; her interest in curating an exhibit was inspired by the classes “Exhibiting Africa” and “Archives Lab,” taught by professors Monique Scott and Lisa Graham. That interest was also harnessed when she worked in Quaker and Special Collections during her first two years at Haverford, and that background has allowed her to pursue curation on a larger scale while working on a personally impactful topic.
“Both classes fostered my interest in ethical museum and archival practices, and I carried their insights into this project,” she said. “Additionally, last summer I was part of the #StopLine3 campaign—an Indigenous woman-led movement to prevent a tar sands oil pipeline from crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi River and from violating the treaties between the Anishinaabe and the U.S. government. This internship felt like a way to pick that work back up again through a different lens and with a more local perspective.”
In Lutnick, the team works with Anna-Alexandra Fodde-Reguer, a research and instruction librarian, and Sarah Horowitz, head of Quaker Special Collections. They have helped the pair to leverage the resources the Libraries offer to make both the digital and physical exhibits as accurate, engaging, and informative as possible.
Sweeney hopes that the lessons she’s learned can be spread to the greater Haverford community, in addition to bolstering her own skills and experience. Working on the exhibit has deeply enriched her understanding of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania’s worldview and principles and she hopes the exhibit can not only bolster the LNPA’s and Haverford’s promising relationship as one between individual Haverford students and staff but extend it to the broader campus community.
Rodriguez-Gomez agreed, “There's plenty I've already learned from the internship, including skills that run the gamut from Photoshop to interviewing, and I hope to come away at the end with a better understanding of the LNPA's work and how to support it.”
"Summer Centered" is a series exploring our students' campus-supported summer work.