In 2014, students in the 200-level Writer’s Seminar looked back at the past 100 years of social history through stories and photographs uncovered in the Hobart and William Smith archives. The resulting projects — combining visual and textual elements — reveal a vividly textured portrait of the 20th century and how the Colleges changed with (and changed) the times.
Susan Hess, the Writing and Teaching/Learning Specialist and Assistant Director of the First-Year Seminar Program, developed the archival research and digital composition project three years ago with colleagues in the Rosensweig Learning Commons — librarian Emily Hart, archivist Katie Lamontagne, and digital learning consultant Rob Beutner.
The project challenges students to use both text and visuals to synthesize the HWS past with students’ own HWS present by focusing on events, issues, problems, phenomena, or questions of consequence to HWS students and/or the HWS community. In 2014, students were able to choose any year from 1914 to 1994 ending with “4,” which yielded projects on everything from the morality of pre-marital sex, to student protests in the 1960s, to the curriculum changes of the 1970s, and more.
Throughout the semester, as students grew as researches and as writers, they collaborated, explored new research and composing techniques, and workshopped their drafts both inside and outside class. The course culminated in a multimedia presentation for classmates and an invited audience in November.
To begin their research, “students search back issues of the Herald or the Echo and Pine for a story or an argument to make,” Hess says. “They’re looking for events or people that might lead them to a story. Because they begin with a question and a year to explore, students discover (or re-learn) that college-level research isn’t about ‘how can I prove my thesis?’ but about ‘what can I discover and what will the evidence allow me to say?'”
“Every college has their own customs, traditions, or expected rules, and I stumbled upon some traditions for my year that intrigued me and made me wonder how culture has changed at HWS,” says Timothy Griffin ’16, whose project “Your First Year” focused on the traditions and customs for first-year Hobart and William Smith students of 1914. “The most challenging part of this project was adjusting to the presentation format. I love giving presentations but this format — without speaking until the end, letting the slides do the talking — was a new one for me. Using this different style was a great way for me to explore different ways in which to express my research.”
“I had never had a project that asked us to use archival research before, and this was the element that was both most exciting and most daunting,” says Nicole Tanquary ’17, whose project “Ladylike?” explored “how early William Smith students decided to portray themselves,” incorporating Central New York’s “rich history pertaining to the suffrage movements.”
Considering the ways in which the HWS theatre and arts programming continue to grow, Tori Zimmer ’18 explored the history of the Little Theatre, its development during the 1930s and how it set the stage for the theatre program at HWS today.
“Just being down in the archives and looking at all these old articles and pictures — it was like I was going to HWS in the 1930s,” Zimmer says. “I had an inside scoop to how HWS worked in that time and that was very interesting to me.”
During her archival research, Emma Anderson ’16, who also focused on 1934, discovered the Scrapbook Collection, where she found the scrapbook of Ethel Gladys Cermak Tompkins ’34, who became the focus of Anderson’s project.
“I noticed how involved she was and that after she graduated she went on to Albany Medical College to later become a doctor,” Anderson says. “This was during a time when the number of women in medical schools across the United States was already very low and actually declining (it did not start to rise again until the 1960s). I found it interesting that she was an exception to the trend at the time.”
For many students Hess works with, “archival research is brand new,” she says, “so it expands students’ repertoire of research methods and provides rich ground for discussions of source credibility and reliability (conversations made all the richer this year, as the class also investigated and analyzed artifacts from the ongoing HWS — and national — story about college campuses and sexual assault).”
Rebecca Czajkowski ’18, whose research focused the year 1994, says she was “determined to find intense student reactions to the international events that were happening at the same time, but aside from articles in the Herald I was unable to find anything of substance. In my search I stumbled upon the Waves, a feminist student publication, and the Outsider(?), both of which had strong feminine body image themes. As a fan of ’90s pop culture I decided to compare feminine body image at HWS and how women were being portrayed in the media.”
“Professor Hess really brought a lot of these topics to life and made things relevant and wanted us to learn about the history of our school,” says Carlyle Klein ’17.
Klein’s project, “William Smith Rising,” grew out of her discovery of satirical advertisements, jokes, and articles in campus publications from the early 1990s that “were mocking toward women and were apparently acceptable to be published. These jokes were made, but William Smith women were very passionate and were not interested in letting the jokes blur their image. Part of the reason I enjoyed my topic so much is because of the Title IX issues going on now, the discussion of gender roles and the Culture of Respect on campus — it’s still relevant now.”
While researching her project, “V-12 = Vitality,” Alexa Campolieto ’17 discovered “a hidden gem in history of the school” — the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which was designed to augment the force of commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Abby Abdinoor ’17, who also focused on the V-12 program, “noticed the name ‘V-12′ a great deal throughout the 1943-1945 editions” of the Herald, and “immediately knew that my digital essay was going to be about V-12. In a way, I kind of felt like I had discovered a secret piece of history that no one knew about and I wanted to share it with my classmates.”
Through their research, Campolieto and Abdinoor found that low enrollment, due to military enlistment, meant the Colleges nearly had to shut its doors during World War II, but V-12 “brought school back to life and allowed it to stay open and keep prospering,” says Campolieto. “The entire school was transformed for the V12 program — women’s dorms were overtaken, so there were some negatives — but the men in the V-12 program were also extremely involved and created more life on campus, were involved in plays and other activities.”
“The V-12 Navy Unit increased enrolment rates, brought the Hobart baseball team back, and essentially prevented the Colleges from closing,” Abdinoor says. “Without V-12, I don’t think that HWS would still be here, and even if it was, it would not be the Colleges that you or I know and love today.”
“The chatter in the room the first time archivist Katie Lamontagne sets the students loose with the 1914 Hobart Student Handbook and the 1934 William Smith Pine and the 1994 Bystander — it’s pretty exciting to watch how this opens a door between HWS’s past and the students’ present,” says Hess. “My thanks to my WRRH 200 classes from 2011 and 2013, the first groups challenged by this ‘Year __’ project, as well as to my Learning Commons Colleagues, who helped design the project and who support the students so well.”
Student projects are available through the links below:
1914: “Your First Year” (Timothy Griffin ’16) and “Ladylike?” (Nicole Tanquary ’17)
1974: “Curriculum Change” (Jacob Pfarrer ’18)