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.