Rauner to hire fellows to study history of marginalized groups at Dartmouth

by Jennie Rhodes | 4/30/18 2:10am

This summer, the Rauner Special Collections Library will pilot a historical accountability project as part of the Inclusive Excellence Initiative. Three students will be chosen as fellows to spend an off-term researching the historical documents of minority groups whose Dartmouth histories have been never been brought to light. Two or three students will also be hired as interns to conduct archival research for faculty interested in studying specific subjects from Dartmouth’s past.

The historical accountability project addresses one of the Inclusive Excellence Initiative’s six main goals — confronting and learning from the College’s past — according to special assistant to the president Christianne Hardy.

“This is an organic and dynamic project that should open up channels for research and study of marginalized groups within our 250 years of history,” Hardy said.

Special collections education and outreach librarian Morgan Swan said he believes this project will be helpful for the College to improve the treatment of all groups on campus.

“No one group should be allowed to control an institution’s past,” Swan said. “Learning from our past is sometimes uncomfortable, but it helps us prepare and do the right thing in the future. We want to understand the history of this institution. There’s a clean version everyone likes to tell, but we want to look at shocking history to be more aware of what is happening now.”

Students’ research projects will culminate in presentations of their findings. According to Swan, there are no limits to the format student researchers can choose to present their work. Possible outlets could range from a paper, to a film, to even an opera of the stories they uncover, Swan said.

“This information that is compiled is meant to bring stories and histories of underrepresented groups to light, but [it will] also help students develop practical skills within the experiential learning vision of [College] President [Phil] Hanlon,” he said. “It would teach students how to conduct research with primary sources.”

The presentations and information gathered by the students will be added to a page on the Dartmouth library website for all students and faculty to use for class work, according to head of Rauner’s special collections Jay Satterfield.

Dartmouth has always used its past to help students understand class topics, Satterfield said.

“Now we are confronting the ugly side to our past, acknowledging and dealing with it,” he said. “The special collections library has an interest in exposing Dartmouth’s history that doesn’t get published and using the past to help shape the future.”

According to Hardy, other universities have similar historical accountability projects. However, most hire professional historians to conduct the research. Dartmouth is unique in hiring student fellows to delve into the school’s past and for integrating its history into classes, she said.

“Going forward, we are encouraging research of the past, especially for teaching in classes,” Hardy said. “It will be a partnership between students and faculty. Over time, the materials in the special collection will be integrated into teaching.”

Fellowship applications are already available on the library website. According to Swan, a committee of librarians is planning on hiring fellows on a rolling basis to begin their research as early as July 1. Swan said the College is also in the process of hiring an institutional research specialist, who will then hire the archival research interns.

Faculty from humanities and social science departments have already expressed interest in facilitating the project and using the research in classes, according to Satterfield. He added that he is optimistic that faculty from STEM departments will also want to take part in the research.

“Dartmouth has great liberal arts where the [faculty of the] STEM fields also wants to get into history,” Satterfield said.

Swan said he is excited for the project to highlight the historical role of the African-American community on campus.

“The [College’s] relationship with the African American community during the 1800s is a dirty secret,” he said. “Slaves built this campus.”

If the pilot is successful, it will become a long-term project, Satterfield said. According to him, the College could support three new student researchers a year for the next five to 10 years and still not run out of ideas for the fellows to study.

“There are a myriad of stories to be told,” Satterfield said. “So much has happened over 250 years. Some stories are well-documented but have never been told, because no one has thought they were important before.”