In support of Middlebury’s history


Middlebury College has a deep commitment to history. We have a History department, we have Special Collections and we share a museum filled with historical objects from throughout the world. The college also demonstrates commitment to its own, local history: commemorative plaques are found on many of our buildings, our library often shows exhibitions on Middlebury’s history (including an excellent one this semester on the history of the gay rights movement at the college) and at least two books have been written on the topic, one by David Stameshkin and one by David H. Bain. 

This outward evidence of our belief in the importance of history implies the assumption that what has occurred before will influence our choices today. The history of the college, then, bears some importance to the present moment and where we, as a community, will go in the future. Still, students typically do not think about this history on a daily, weekly, or even quadrennial basis; that is to say, many never think about it and know virtually nothing about it. This lack of knowledge of the college history damages our community and lessens the sense of belonging that we would like to feel. If more students understood this history, or were even vaguely aware of its general outlines, then it is more likely that more students would feel as though they belong in this community. In order to increase awareness of the college history and hopefully to affect other salutary changes, I propose a simple solution: put one copy of the history by Mr. Bain into every dorm room on campus (and ensure their safety by charging students for missing or irreparably damaged copies, just as we would charge students for missing or irreparably damaged chairs or desks). I have introduced a bill to the SGA Senate which would support a program by which this plan could come to fruition.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being unfairly favoring Mr. Bain (even to the detriment of Mr. Stameshkin), I should say that the reason Mr. Bain’s book is more suitable for this task than Mr. Stameshkin’s is that Mr. Bain’s book contains a larger number of illustrations, uses more accessible language and positions itself as an introduction to the college history. Hopefully, this may even lead students to the book by Mr. Stameshkin if they wanted further clarification on certain points. 

Even before a student reads Bain’s book, however, they would likely already have felt a greater sense of belonging merely by knowing that it is in their room and by being able to point to it. The essence, or definition, of Bain’s book is tied to the physical, geographical location of Middlebury, Vermont, and does not extend much past the campus itself. What every student, past, present and future, shares with every other student of the college is the fact that we all live in the same town for at least some amount of time in order to achieve our degrees. This commonality is so simple that its idea can be transferred to the book: whenever one points at the book, or sees it, they will understand the importance of this common location. The book works to achieve this effect by definition, as it is a collection of the most notable people who have lived here and the most notable events which have occurred here.

Some objections I have heard when I have discussed this idea with my friends have included the environmental cost of printing, the feeling of an invasion of privacy and a lack of confidence that anyone would pay any attention to the book at all. To answer the first objection: the college already has many copies being stored for their eventual sale. More significantly, the number of books to be printed would be relatively small and the paper costs could be recouped by printing fewer publications and marketing materials for a certain amount of time. We might also find it economical to produce a new and less expensive edition which would use less paper. To the second objection: if your room is on campus, then it is not actually your room. The college has always owned it and will always own it. Recent vandalism also suggests that when the college entrusts its rooms completely to students, they damage them and decrease staff morale. To the third objection I say that, though some people would surely throw the book into the abyss of their closet for the semester, other people would surely put it high upon their shelf. If even a few people feel as though the book has helped them belong here, then I believe this proposal is worthwhile and the bill should be passed. 

John Gosselin  is a member of the class of 2020.