Category Archives: History

Whose History? A Student Perspective

Over the past few semesters, librarian Liz Chase has worked closely with Professor Todd Gernes’s course, “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.” This course, Gernes notes, “uses the life of Frederick Douglass as a basis and lens for understanding 19th-century American history and culture. Douglass’ heroic journey from slavery to freedom … reveals a nation riven by race, region, economy and even differing conceptions of justice and morality.” The course also asks students to think about what it means to “do history,” and to question whose histories dominate our national narratives. We asked student Amanda Phillips ’18, to share her perspective on the course for Black History Month.

Whose History: A First Hand Look into the Past by Amanda Phillips 18

In Professor Gernes’s class, “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” students get a first-hand look into 19th century America, specifically the lives of slaves. The cornerstone history class allows students the opportunity to grow as historical thinkers by reading primary sources in the forms of autobiographies and contemporary news and documents, alongside helpful secondary sources.

We have learned at this point in the course that history is the piecing together of facts and stories that fit together to complete the puzzle of what actually occurred in the past. An example of this piecing together is the life of Frederick Douglass, whom the class is titled after. Douglass’s life spanned almost the entire 19th century (1818-1895), and by studying the lives of his contemporaries we are able to get a more wholesome view of the times.

In the context of this course, it is especially difficult to ascertain the truth about what happened to slaves in 19th century America. This is due in part to the vast illiteracy of slaves and to masters intentionally keeping slaves ignorant. Only studying Douglass’s life would provide us with a small piece of slavery in America, and by looking only at Douglass’s autobiographies we would be ignorant of the many people that helped him along the way. Douglass’s portrayal of himself in his autobiographies depicts him as a self-made man, whereas analysis of his biographies reveal that he could not have accomplished what he had without the help of others – his wife, for example.

We learn from this that there is bias in all that we read from the past. In order to create an accurate picture of the past, we must take the source into consideration when reading primary sources about slavery, as well as the publication date and social climate of the time in which any other secondary source on the topic of slavery was published. What is interesting about “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass” is that it allows us students to come to our own conclusions about the past while taking these points into consideration.



Historic Snow Storms at Stonehill

historicsnow2With 40 inches on snow on the ground and more in the forecast, you might be wondering how this winter compares to others in the region. This recent storm set a record for the snowiest 7 day period, but the blizzard of 2015 was only the 6th biggest in Massachusetts history. For the biggest, you will have to go back a dozen years to February 17, 2003 when 27.5 inches got dumped on Boston, but the timing and the fluffy nature of the snow from that storm make it nowhere near as memorable as the Blizzard of ’78. You have undoubtedly heard your parents talk of this great blizzard that all storms compare to. The Blizzard of ’78 hit hard during rush hour, making it extremely difficult for people to get home, and clogging the roads with abandoned vehicles.

historicsnow1Several other top 10 storms occurred during your lifetime. Number 4 the “April Fool’s Day Blizzard”, hitting in 1997 just days after temperatures had been in the 60’s. Number 5 was Nemo, dumping 25 inches on Boston. Nemo’s hurricane force winds made it seem much worse than many storms. There was a state of emergency declared, and many lost power.

historicsnow3But none of these storms compares to the Great Blizzard of 1888, which dumped up to 50 inches of snow on the area. The storm’s 80 mph winds blew the snow into 40 foot drifts! With this blizzard occurring in mid-March (11th-14th), and 1997’s April Fool’s blizzard in April, we have several more weeks to go before we are sure the snow is over.

To read more about historical snow storms, and to see pictures of what clean up looked like see the historical Boston Globe,and historical New York Times

Like the students pictured in these archive photos, after our recent storm many current Stonehill students enjoyed sledding down Donahue, building snowmen outside of their dorm buildings, and (less enjoyable) shoveling out their cars. The cold and snowy conditions during the thick of the storm, however, kept many students inside with classes cancelled and not much to do!

To pass the time while stuck inside, remember that the library has a large collection of recreational DVD’s for your viewing pleasure as well as streaming videos available through Kanopy – and if the power goes out, we always have plenty of books!