Making History Public
True students of history know that the study of history is not confined to learning dates, names, and events, or passively receiving information in order to pass courses. Rather, historians search for insight into the ideas and lives of men and women of earlier times. Studying history helps us to see the world through different eyes, and the ability to see events from a perspective other than our own is crucially important in our increasingly globalized society. Being a historian means being always willing to ask new questions of primary sources--the documents, archives, books, letters, newspapers, audio and video recordings, and artifacts created by participants in past events. Students in history courses regularly write research papers based on primary sources, in which they ask new questions and offer new insights into historical events as diverse as the Vietnam War, the Italian Renaissance, FDR's New Deal, the Viking invasions, and the end of colonialism in Africa. But too often, only the professor teaching the course gets to see the fruits of her students' painstaking work in primary sources.
"Making History Public" is an effort to change that, and to reach for a larger audience for our history students' research. It's an exciting new collaboration between the History Department and the Boston College Libraries, inaugurated in the 2012-13 academic year. The core of the program is an undergraduate history course taught by different history faculty members each semester, the goal of which is to produce an exhibition of materials from the Boston College Libraries. The idea for the program was developed last year in several meetings that brought together librarians, historians, and deans. "Making History Public" would not have begun without the ideas, suggestions, and support from Tom Wall (University Librarian), Bridget Burke (Associate University Librarian for Special Collections), David Quigley (Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), and Robin Fleming (History Department chair).
I taught the first iteration of "Making History Public" last fall on the topic of "Books Around the World, 1400-1800." The fruits of my students' work are currently on display in the History Department's quarters in Stokes Hall (third floor, south). All semester last fall, ten students and I met for class in the splendid, elegant setting of the Burns Library's Irish Room, where we pored over a wealth of books Boston College owns that were printed in Europe and colonial North America in the first centuries after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Please come visit the show before it ends on December 1. I hope you will delight as much as the students and I did when you see such beautiful old books about every topic imaginable, from politics and theology to science, travel, and fairy tales. I hope the exhibition conveys at least a hint of the great fun we had finding, thinking about, and writing for our visitors about Gulliver's Travels, the Copernican universe, a Sufi prayer book, a cookbook, and Cinderella and Her Glass Slipper.
My name was listed as the course instructor, but the librarians' and my colleagues' contributions to the course and resulting exhibition were even more important than mine. Justine Sundaram, Senior Reference Librarian at the Burns Library, shared with us her incomparable knowledge of the Burns collections, and helped the students choose books for their portions of the exhibition. Elliot Brandow, Senior Reference Librarian at O'Neill Library, was our embedded librarian in the course; he helped the students find scholarly literature that shed light on the historical context of the books they chose. Barbara Adams Hebard and David Richtmyer of the Burns Library gave special presentations to the class. Once the students had written labels explaining and interpreting their books, Professor Karen K. Miller of the History Department, whose field is public history, edited our text. Bill Donovan and his colleagues in the Digital Imaging department produced beautiful digital photos of our books. Kevin Tringale, Exhibits Specialist at Bapst Library, took many photographs for us, but more importantly also designed and installed a beautiful exhibition in Stokes Hall.
Students and faculty in subsequent "Making History Public" courses will mount exhibitions on comic books and American values in the 1970s, the Boston Common, and early maps of the Americas. Stop by the History Department (Stokes Hall, third floor south) to see a display of the latest historical research by our students!