Marlboro Re-memories

History has usually been a thorny subject for me because it’s about memory. I mean, I have the same trouble memorizing when the War of 1812 was fought, or why Ivan was so Terrible, or how long the 100-Year War lasted, as I do remembering what I had for breakfast. So I felt like a regular born-again historian last night at an awesome presentation by students in the class called The Presence of the Past, which takes a fresh-as-a-jump-in-South-Pond look at local history.

For starters, freshman Nina Rodwin talked about Elizabeth Whitmore, one of Marlboro’s first settlers and a midwife who apparently delivered a stunning 2,000 babies without a single mortality. But histories are written by people with their own quirky memories, and the parts that are left out are often as significant as the parts called “history.” In this spirit, the students were encouraged to be creative with their own interpretations, to turn over stones, to rake the muck, to boldly go where no quirky historian has gone. So Nina had created a “diary,” scratched with a quill pen on paper died yellow and crinkly with black tea, based on what she had learned about the remarkable Ms. Whitmore, day-to-day life during the period and the life of midwives in particular.

Not to be out-interpreted, sophomore Esperanza Friel wrote a book of letters between a Marlboro student and her boyfriend, who was mysteriously time-warped back to 1961, when everyone on campus wore tweed jackets and “facebook” meant falling asleep in the library. Sophomore Alexia Boggs thoughtfully wrote a speech for George Bush to have read if he had ever visited Vermont, and senior Alex Tolstoi created a “primary document” based on items in the final estate of early Marlboro settler and ardent “Yorker” Charles Phelps. Senior Mercedes Lake wrote a whole blooming play about a small Vermont town in the 1850s—including uplifting historical tidbits like tuberculosis, livestock depredation by wolves and emigration to points west that had actual soil—to be part of her Plan of Concentration.

The most intriguing to me was the work of sophomore Kara Hamilton, who displayed a series of yellowed newspaper front pages showing changes in the local economy and layers of memory. It was kind of like reading the newspaper after being transported, along with someone really good at paper cutouts, by Esperanza’s time warp. But all of these fine works of art, memory, imagination and, yup, history, were heartily appreciated by several members of the town community who ventured to the campus center. The cookies didn’t hurt either.

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Awareness Is for Ever

At lunch on Wednesday, our very own Health and Wellness Committee presented a table with condoms and health information, part of the kick-off for their AIDS Awareness and Sexual Wellness Week. The week is an ambitious line-up of events, during an already busy time on campus, in the hopes that students will find lots of awareness to be thankful for by Thanksgiving Break.

For example, Wednesday night Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, television producer and radio broadcaster John Scagliotti presented the director’s cut of his 1999 documentary After Stonewall. John is an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights and the very same John Scagliotti who received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at Marlboro’s commencement last May. The amazing chronicle of lesbian and gay life from the 1969 riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn to recent years, After Stonewall left students with a clear sense of how AIDS has changed the course of gay liberation and how far there is still to go.

Other highlights of the week include free HIV testing, sexual health games, a burlesque dancing workshop with Elizabeth Hallett ’05 and, everybody’s favorite, Queer Homecoming. There is also a talk by Paul Brogan, author of Was That a Name I Dropped?, who was misdiagnosed as HIV-positive and has spent much of his life caring for those who are. But the really amazing thing will be the arrival of three panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, each one three feet by six feet and celebrating the life of someone lost to the AIDS pandemic. The whole quilt, considered the largest piece of folk art in the world, weighs an estimated 54 tons and could cover 20 acres, so it’s probably best that we only get three panels. They will be displayed in the dining hall for three days, just before Thanksgiving—a very poignant image to take home with us, no?

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