Monday, May 23, 2011

Name That Audience 4

What is this audience lined up for? A footrace? A wedding? The answer is after the jump.

They are awaiting the graduation procession on the Diag (or "diagonal green") at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, c. 1890. The photo comes from the historical photography blog,

Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

Note everyone's finest dress, general silence, and stiff bearing, indicating that an event of significance is unfolding before them. They are outside, though not on a permanent structure like bleachers; this is clearly not a regular occurrence but one in which the space has been temporarily re-made into a corridor for viewing, like a parade on a public street. The sun, dappled by tree cover, indicates a nice day; the fans that some people are holding suggest a hot day--likely in a warm season.

This is not necessarily an enthusiastic audience--at least not yet. Two of the couples on the left are turned to each other in conversation; many of the people in the foreground are looking at the camera a bit listlessly, as if they had likely been waiting and looking around for an object of interest to watch until their graduating friends or family members pass by. The cameraman (who appears to be standing above the onlookers, perhaps in a nearby tree) seems more interesting to them than the distinguished professors at the head of the procession.

I could make a joke about how not much has changed for professors. Instead, I will make a serious observation that, overall, the rite of passage represented by graduation has not much changed in a hundred years, except perhaps the numbers of people participating in it. Of course, this growth is more dramatic at the University of Michigan than at smaller schools. One thing I must do in the future is trace the history of commencement ceremonies, particularly how they have been adapted to accommodate larger and larger class sizes. How do you retain the ritual when you move from 11 graduates (in 1845) to 8,500 graduates (in 2010)?

2010 University of Michigan Commencement, Michigan Stadium.

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