WOOSTER, Oct. 19 – Institutional history is typically written from the top down: heavy on administrative decisions and presidential perspectives, light on views from the ground. A new book produced to mark the sesquicentennial of The College of Wooster’s founding, however, takes a different approach. 150 Years – Through Students’ Eyes offers a look at key moments in the college’s history through 150 carefully selected archival images that reflect the experience of Wooster’s students.
The project was the brainchild of Madonna Hettinger, the Lawrence Stanley Professor of Medieval History at Wooster, and was executed with the help of her two indefatigable student research assistants, Sally Kendrick ’16 and Scott Wagner ’17.
“I thought it was important to engage students in the process of not just marking our history, but recognizing how deeply rooted our values are,” Hettinger says. “The idea was to build on the archival projects I normally assign to students in my Making History: Theory and Methods class and bring our work to a larger audience through two exhibits and a very small booklet to accompany the main exhibit [in Andrews Library] for the October 2016 celebration. As we got deeper into the project, the booklet grew from the original idea of a few photos to the full 150 photos that now tell our story.”
Beginning last January and throughout the spring semester, Hettinger, Kendrick and Wagner met virtually daily to work on the project. They would brainstorm categories of images and then the two students would head off to Andrews Library, where Special Collections Librarian Denise Monbarren would delve deep into the college’s archives to provide hundreds of possibilities.
“I had no idea how rich Wooster’s archives were,” Kendrick says. “I expected to be able to find information on significant administrative figures and…old issues of college publications, but I did not expect such a rich collection of materials relating to the student experience.”
“Denise Monbarren and her student assistants have done incredible work,” Wagner adds. “There are thousands of letters, postcards, and incredible photos from Wooster’s history. The trick for us wasn’t finding enough photos; it was trying to decide which photos to choose for the book.”
Finding the right organizational structure in which to present the images was also a challenge. “I must have laid out various outlines, stretched across my living room floor, dozens of times before the right one clicked,” Hettinger says. “And there are at least 50 more photos that I wish we could have included.”
The book is divided into nine chapters, including From the Founding to the Fire; Living at Wooster; Making Music; Weekends; and Facing Challenges.
“I hope people can see slices of their own Wooster experiences in the book,” Wagner says. “A lot of things have changed at Wooster over 150 years, but many of the aspects of our campus culture that make Wooster unique were present from the very beginning.”
Kendrick, who graduated in May and is working as an intern at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., says, “Wooster’s history has been full of moments when faculty, students, and staff have come together to make the college a better place as an academic institution, as a community, and as a force for good in the world. It’s an exciting history to tell, and it’s also a wonderful challenge for the future.”
150 Years – Through Students’ Eyes is available for purchase at the Wilson Bookstore on campus, and through their website.