When Does Content Cross the Line?

While compiling content for Cleveland Historical’s  app site on the Tower Press building, an old textile factory near the campus of Cleveland State University, a CPHDH staff member selected to include an image that raised a number of questions.  The photograph, taken in 1935 in an unknown location during a textile strike, shows a topless female strikebreaker trying to cover herself up while surrounded by a crowd of men.  A number of strikers, upset at the woman’s decision to cross the picket line, had torn off her shirt.  According to its caption, the photograph was taken as police officers escorted the woman to safety.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

We wondered whether this was an appropriate image to use on the app.  It certainly illustrates the violent confrontations that strikes commonly caused at this time, and it also says something powerful about society’s treatment of women. But does the image belong on an educational mobile application designed to be used by people of all ages? Could another image be used in its stead?

This is not the first time we’ve wrestled with this question.  Last year, we removed a picture of a woman dancing at the Great Lakes Exposition in a see-through dress from the Expo’s app site. Again, the representation of women at the Expo is a fascinating topic that caused controversy during the event and is worthy of our attention today, but did this particular image belong on Cleveland Historical?  Probably not…

In creating Cleveland Historical, we didn’t want to shy away from controversial topics or provide a “sanitized” version of the past, and I think that has so far been accomplished.  But we still ought to consider the sensitivities of its users, particularly as we actively encourage school teachers to use the app in their classrooms.

Michael Rotman is a graduate assistant and research associate at the CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities.