American Environmental History presentation reveals unexplored spaces
Students in American Environmental History, a course taught this fall by Assistant Professor of History Sara Egge, were challenged to look at Centre College in a different way, focusing on the meanings of places on campus that don’t already have histories written about them. As a result, explains Egge (pictured right), “These students have brought a new lens to how we understand Centre’s environment.”
They shared their semester-long research recently in a poster presentation in Grace Doherty Library on Dec. 5, and the insightful exhibit can still be enjoyed by the campus community.
“I had this idea that I wanted the students to really apply what they were learning; not just learn the concepts but live the concepts,” says Egge. “Also, Centre has wonderful special collections and archives full of information that is being underutilized by students, so why not combine the two?” That’s when she turned to the librarians at Grace Doherty Library.
“This is the second time Dr. Egge’s done this project, but this time I think we spent a lot more time in the archives with the students,” says Carrie Frey, reference and interlibrary loan librarian. “And this poster session is new as well, because we wanted the campus to see the work that they’ve done.”
This past summer, library staff, including Frey and Beth Morgan ’01, technical services librarian, began compiling a list of research possibilities for the students, along with available archival materials. Some of the spots students chose, among others, were the Centre swing, athletic fields, and the Sinking Spring.
Jeri Howell ’16 researched the Young Hall lawn space where the decades-old American Beech tree (also called the Love Tree) once stood before its death and removal in 2011. While each student had to define environmental relationships in their own way, her focus was on the human.
“Some people chose a framework of human as well as non-human environment,” Howell says. “Others chose to focus on just non-human environment, and others conducted their research without any reference to human environment at all. It’s a very fluid definition.
“The Love Tree reveals that Centre has a more humanistic environmental relationship,” Howell concluded, “focusing more on the human value of landscapes, privileging certain landscapes on campus because humans have ascribed meaning to them rather than making decisions based on ecological value or non-human nature value as nature.”
For her research, Howell delved into Board of Trustees minutes from 1970 forward; letters from former President Tom Spragens; some pieces written by the communications office; interviews with Professor of Biology Anne Lubbers, Wayne King, director of facilities management, and Preston Miles, John C. Walkup Professor of Chemistry; and interviews with alumni.
Egge admits that this was a difficult project for undergraduate students, but that they met the challenge.
“The interesting thing about this is, normally you can go to the library and find a book on a topic,” she explains. “There are no books on these topics. They can’t just go and learn about the context, they have to create the context themselves. So it’s challenging, it’s original, and it’s highly rewarding. This level of research is what graduate students and professional historians do.”
Junior Dustin Bruner researched Combs Warehouse. He used the College’s archival materials as well, but found that much of that information was from 1993 to present, and didn’t really document the Warehouse’s nearly 200-year history prior to the College acquiring the building. So he turned to the Danville/Boyle County Public Library where he combed through microfilm, and also the deeds and plats books at the courthouse.
“I wanted to learn the history, and not just more recent times,“ Bruner says. “It went from a hemp warehouse to a dry goods, then a grocery and a grain market. Boyle County grew to be one of the largest, if not the largest, hemp producer in the state, and the first among the top five or ten in the country.”
“At Centre we talk about how we want our students to do the discipline, and to do undergraduate research,” Egge says. “This project was a way to incorporate both. And what better way to give back to Centre. Now we have these wonderful histories of these 22 places.”
King, and emeritus faculty Milton Scarborough (religion and philosophy), Eric Mount (religion), and Michael Hamm (history), came and spoke to the class.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Egge says. “They gave their historical insights and oral history interviews to the class, and they were phenomenal. And I can’t speak highly enough of our librarians.”
“We really had a blast,” says Morgan. “It was so much fun. Being familiar with what [was in] the archives and what could be used helped us guide them. I can’t say enough good things about this project.”
“We hope that we can keep the poster projects in the archives so other students can benefit from what they’ve done,” Frey says.
by Cindy Long
Above center: Jeri Howell ’16 presents her research on the Love Tree.