Experiencing Domike

Promotional Poster from the opening of "The River Ran Red".


Experiencing Domike

Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) - Fall 2017

Coming into the university archives, I knew two things about Steffi Domike. I knew that she was a filmmaker and I knew that she was a women’s labor activist. But that’s barely scratching the surface when it comes to the career of Steffi Domike. My first real exposure to the material came from reading the entire finding guide. As I went through the finding guide, I made a list of boxes and folders with titles that intrigued me. That list guided me through the actual collection for the first time. Each box or folder revealed a new aspect of Domike’s career.  Her collection is housed in two sections, the first portion being in the labor section of the archive stacks. The materials I read were pretty much what I expected; pamphlets, buttons, flyers for various events, photographs, and newspaper articles. What surprised me about Domike’s interest in labor activities in the 19th century. However, I had only gone through a small portion of the collection so I put my curiosity aside. I moved on to the other section of her collection and read syllabi for her classes, personal art projects, and various proposals and summaries for her films. The materials from Life Without Father really caught my interest and I read everything from that particular film project. By the end of that first week, my understanding of Steffi Domike had changed dramatically. She was no longer simply a labor activist and filmmaker; she was a professor, creator, and researcher. She is this renaissance woman who kept her overall goal of advancing labor and women’s rights at the front of her work.

The second week of the internship a box of new materials appeared on my desk and I was tasked with housing its contents within the permanent collection. I wanted to do the collection justice and find the best home for each of the new materials. I began by reading every piece of material completely. Once I had finished reading and making notes on everything in the box, I began making connections between the new material and the themes and elements of the collection. Events and themes began to come to the forefront: the Battle of Homestead, the Patriot Act, the decline of the steel industry, and non-profit finances. While reading the materials about the Battle of Homestead, which is the subject of Domike’s River Ran Red, I realized how old and embedded the labor movement was in the fabric of Pittsburgh steel. Until this point, almost of the materials I had read were from the 1970s and 1980s, which is what I had been expecting. I gained a completely new perspective on her work while working with anything dealing with River Ran Red or the Battle of Homestead Centennial materials. I became almost obsessed with the event and took on a small rehousing project for her binders of images from the film. In my mind the scope of Domike’s career had drastically changed. I had been under the impression that Steffi Domike became a creator because she desired justice for her own career within the steel industry, but in reality Domike desired justice for all those who had been wronged by the steel industry.

As this experience comes to an end and I spend my final hours working with Domike, I have a deep sense of accomplishment for each of the materials that I’ve been able to place into the collection. I believe that I’ve done the everything within my ability to put these materials in effective places within the collection. But in truth, I’ve learned much more than practical archival skills this semester. I’ve learned to always approach a new experience with an open mind rather than letting my expectation cloud the experience. Domike and her career taught me that at times expectations can potentially be the downfall of a great learning experience. Academically, I’ve chosen to focus on history that is much older and broad in scope than Domike. I concentrated on Ancient Civilizations in my history studies and so Domike’s career is much too modern for my liking, but by no means does that diminish that value of Domike to me personally. Quite frankly, I’ve become quite fond of Domike over the past last few months and I’ll miss her presence in my daily life.

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