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Finding Historic Treasures Near Colgate

By History Department on July 11, 2019

Long before I first visited Colgate in 2014, I was passionate about Historic Preservation. Still, it took until my senior year of college to realize the depth of heritage in and around Hamilton. Hamilton is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District, known for its downtown architectural diversity and University buildings such as Hascall Hall. I had the pleasure to look beyond the exterior of many historic residences in Colgate for the first time through the Holiday House Tour last December.

            But what about the buildings located just outside of Hamilton that do not have either national recognition or Colgate affiliation? People often joke that there is nothing surrounding Hamilton but cows and farms. That is far from the case. There are incredible antique stores, round barns, churches, old bars, and public houses. Through the Museum Studies program, I was able to visit and share my thoughts on the Columbus Public House, located about seven miles from Sherburne, New York and thirty minutes from Colgate.

            Owned by Edsall Hodges, a local restaurateur and contractor with decades of experience in the region, the Columbus Public House is a late-eighteenth-century stagecoach hotel with mid-twentieth century additions. The building is simple from the exterior—two-stories with a wrap-around balcony covered in cracked white paint and patriotic blue and red trim. It is an unassuming place for what lies within: a fresco-covered ballroom, possibly dating to the Civil War era. The predominantly blue fresco continues the patriotic motif, including a painting of an eagle with the phrase “UNION FOREVER!” Unfortunately, today the fresco lies in a state of disrepair, suffering from severe water damage as well as years (if not decades) of abandonment. It begs for an immediate preservation intervention. Hodges has begun working with local conservators and Colgate community members, such as Elizabeth Robson ’14—a former Art History major who is now completing a Masters in Painting Conservation at SUNY Buffalo. In my opinion, Hodges has many preservation options. The room could be preserved visually as it is. This option would leave the disrepair visible as part of the building’s history but stabilize the room with plaster and sealant to prevent further damage and make it structurally safe for visitors. A digital rendering of the room’s original appearance could then accompany this preservation effort. If the entire fresco is too damaged for repair within a specified budget, then the eagle painting could be removed and preserved separately by a skilled conservator. Any salvation attempt is better than losing the entire fresco.

            Hodges should be commended for his decision to rehabilitate the Columbus Public House into a restaurant, scheduled to open this summer, and seek consultation on the fresco. Few would have spent the time and money to save this architecturally significant building from demolition. The Columbus Public House is a great case study for the prevalence of hidden preservation treasures around Colgate as well as the dedication of local preservation enthusiasts such as Hodges. Hopefully, Colgate community members will too become preservation advocates, looking for preservation gems all around Central New York or, at least, visiting the Columbus Public House for a delicious meal upon its opening. I now leave Colgate for Columbia University to start a Masters in Historic Preservation. I hope, however, that future students can learn from my mistakes and open their eyes early to the historic buildings that inhabit the towns and open spaces surrounding Colgate. A History education could only be enhanced through them.  

Article by Emily Kahn, Colgate University Bicentennial Class of 2019, History Major & Museum Studies Minor. Photos courtesy of Edsall Hodges.

Professor Etefa Publishes a New Book

By History Department on May 7, 2019

The Origins of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: Politics and Violence in Darfur, Oromia, and the Tana Delta

From Darfur to the Rwandan genocide, journalists, policymakers, and scholars have blamed armed conflicts in Africa on ancient hatreds or competition for resources. Here, Tsega Etefa compares three such cases—the Darfur conflict between Arabs and non-Arabs, the Gumuz and Oromo clashes in Western Oromia, and the Oromo-Pokomo conflict in the Tana Delta—in order to offer a fuller picture of how ethnic violence in Africa begins. Diverse communities in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya alike have long histories of peacefully sharing resources, intermarrying, and resolving disputes. As he argues, ethnic conflicts are fundamentally political conflicts, driven by non-inclusive political systems, the monopolization of state resources, and the manipulation of ethnicity for political gain, coupled with the lack of democratic mechanisms for redressing grievances.

Written by Tsega Etefa, Professor of History

What Can I do with a History Degree?

By History Department on April 19, 2019

On April 5th, for its second History Conversation of the Spring 2019 term, the History Department hosted an event for current students wanting to learn more about where a history degree can lead. The event featured four recent Colgate History alumni, Carrie Blackmore (class of 2008), Morgan Nevins (2010), Sohee Ryuk (2015), and Jack Schnettler (2015). These alumni returned to Colgate to share their experiences and insights into where a history degree has taken them. Each gave a short talk about their careers and how a history degree has (or has not) been relevant to the paths they chose.

Each of the alumni provided interesting perspectives for current History students, stressing the value of the writing, verbal presentation, and organizational skills they developed as History majors. Carrie Blackmore (’08) founded a thriving business, Good Nature Brewing, in the years after graduation. While one may not immediately come to the conclusion that a history degree and brewery entrepreneurship would go hand in hand, Carrie explained that the skills she developed studying history have truly helped her to navigate the complexities of being a business owner. The rigorous coursework and skills she developed during her time at Colgate have helped her with everything from writing a business plan proposal, to the day to day challenges of entrepreneurship.

Shortly after graduation, Morgan Nevins (‘10) joined the Peace Corps and worked as a community health volunteer in Mozambique. Upon returning from the Peace Corps, she worked as a program officer in a global nonprofit international health care organization. Morgan learned, both during her time abroad and in the workforce, that being able to analyze current details while also the larger historical context is essential to tackling current issues. With an interest in social justice and humanitarian aid, Morgan is currently studying at Columbia University, where she is a dual degree master’s candidate in Social Work and International Relations.

Sohee Ryuk (’15) who double majored in History and Psychology, shared that History has continued to be a driving force in her life after Colgate. After graduation, she was awarded a Watson Fellowship, and spent a year traveling Eastern Europe and Central Asia, exploring how ethnic identity was expressed in areas of oppression, and the policies surrounding these ethnic minority groups. From the time of her London History Study group, Sohee knew that she was interested in exploring these themes. After her Watson fellowship she spent some time working in educational consulting, but ultimately decided to get back to her passion for history, and is currently a PhD candidate in History at Columbia University.

Since his graduation, Jack Schnettler (’15) worked as an intern, and later staff assistant in Washington, D.C. for two U.S. Senators, and is currently getting a degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Jack stressed the importance of writing and communication skills in the workforce. He explained that learning how to synthesize information, and write compelling arguments during his history studies has been essential to the successes in his professional life.

While these four alumni have had very different experiences, it was clear that the foundations they built during their time as History majors at Colgate have allowed them to excel in their career paths and pursuits.

History Department Hosts “Inseparable” Lecture

By History Department on April 3, 2019

On Monday, April 1st, the Colgate History Department hosted a lecture titled “Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History” by author Yunte Huang, Professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Huang is a Guggenheim fellow, one of the highest scholarly honors, and author of Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. This talk focused on the incredible story of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins who triumphed over extraordinary odds in the 19th century and went on to become two of the most popular entertainers of their time. Huang details their fascinating story in his new book titled Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History and was kind enough to share it with the Colgate community.

Professor Graham Hodges introduced Huang, noting that he is not only an academic, but a distinguished poet and author as well. Professor Hodges is currently teaching a class about slavery and abolitionism, which interestingly enough intersects with Huang’s work as the twins owned slaves in the antebellum South. The talk began with a showing of the CBS Sunday Morning program on the twins, in which Huang was recently featured as an expert. The clip showed a Bunker family reunion in which Chang and Eng’s descendants got together and discussed which side of the family they were from: the Chang or the Eng side. Huang described how the pair was born in 1811 in Siam, now known as Thailand, and were discovered by a traveling Scottish businessman named Robert Hunter who brought them to America in 1829. They took the country by storm, touring with carnivals and presenting themselves as a curiosity, a modern form of entertainment at the time. The twins declared themselves free from their owner at age 21 and began running their own show. Eventually, tired from traveling the world as entertainers, they bought land and settled down in South Carolina and retired as incredibly wealthy world-travelers at the age of 28. However, the story did not end there. Chang and Eng did not escape from view, as they went on to court and marry sisters Adelaide and Sarah Yates, daughters of a respected local landowner, in 1843. Collectively, the twins had 21 children.

Complex ideas about race intertwined throughout the lecture. The twins were essentially bought as slaves when they were first brought to America and were regarded as Asian “freaks” throughout their lives, yet married two white Southern Christian ladies and owned 32 slaves themselves, even sending sons to fight on the side of the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out. Furthermore, the popular freak shows that Chang and Eng were on the forefront of eventually turned into blackface and minstrel shows. Thus, Chang and Eng were a big part of the history of American entertainment and the racial prejudices that it was marked by. Huang emphasized throughout the lecture that although the twins were first regarded as “freaks,” they were truly “amazing, resourceful and inventive, and never gave up even though the odds were against them,” going on to live a wonderful life. In describing his work, Huang said, “I’m not a historian, I’m mostly a writer. How I tell the story is my major concern.”

Article and photograph by Karrie Spychalski ‘19.

Anna Pluff ’20 Explores University of Bath Archives

By History Department on March 18, 2019

I traveled to the University of Bath to look at the A. K. Chesterton Collection as I work on my Colgate University undergraduate thesis. I am studying Chesterton’s relationship with fascism in his later years of his life, when he formed the League of Empire Loyalists (LEL) and later presided over the National Front. Research has been done on the early years of Chesterton’s life and the initial developments that may have led him to adopt fascist ideology. However, I’m more interested in whether or not there truly was a definitive split from fascism, as Chesterton himself claims. Understanding his LEL years may provide some important insight.

When researching the LEL, I was surprised to stumble upon a scrapbook that had been compiled by LEL members. The LEL preferred to lobby by unconventional means, such as political stunts. They would often interrupt Tory Party Conferences with cries of “Save the Empire,” and “Tory Traitors,” and were avidly followed by the press. The scrapbook contained many clippings from these stunts. It is clear that the LEL operated in any way possible that would mean the front cover of the newspaper as its goal was to raise public awareness and influence Conservative policy relating to the Empire.

The scrapbook also contained strategies for the stunts as well. While the stunts of the LEL were widely reported, the group never reached more than 3,000 members. This was far below Chesterton’s goal, which was 20,000 members. Despite the fact that Chesterton never had ambitions for the LEL to become a party, some members did run for seats in Parliament. One such member, Leslie Greene, ran in the North Lewisham Parliamentary Election as an “independent loyalist candidate”. She lost miserably, only garnering 1,487 votes. Her opponents, Labour candidate Niall MacDermot received 18,516 votes and Conservative candidate Norman Farmer received 17,406 votes.

Despite the abundant press coverage of the stunts of the LEL, many of which are glued to the pages of this scrapbook, the LEL never became a prominent force, eventually merging with the British National Party, the Greater Britain Movement and the Racial Preservation Society to form the National Front in 1967. Despite the short life of the LEL, studying Chesterton’s leadership during this time will allow me to evaluate his relationship with fascism in the later years of his life. Chesterton’s time with the LEL is a crucial period in the development of his political ideology and his LEL years may have represented his altered relationship with fascism. The opportunity to review the LEL scrapbook made the research process for my thesis all the more interesting!

Article by Anna Pluff ’20, originally published on the University of Bath ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ library page, linked below.


Professor Hull Gives Colgate Bicentennial Lecture

By History Department on March 13, 2019
Hamilton Female Seminary, photograph by Henry Hill, circa 1889

On Thursday, March 7th, the History Department and campus community gathered in Alumni Hall for Professor Jennifer Hull’s lecture, “The Original Co-eds: The Hamilton Female Seminary and Women at Colgate, 1855-1895,” as part of the Division of Social Sciences Luncheon Seminar Series and the Colgate Bicentennial celebration.

Professor Hull, Bicentennial Research Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of History, spoke to an absolutely full room of students and professors interested in learning about how Colgate arrived at co-education. In her research, Professor Hull looked at not only a timeline of co-education, but also dove into the very question of what it means to have co-education, and how exactly we define it. While Colgate did not officially become co-ed until 1970, Professor Hull found Colgate’s history to be scattered with various manifestations of co-education. There were many cases of women taking courses on campus and even being seemingly well integrated into the fabric of life at Colgate, from early female students, to exchange students, to G.I. wives post WWII. Professor Hull also explored the history of the Hamilton Female Seminary and the possibility that it was, or could have become, a coordinate college of Colgate.

A complete presentation of Professor Hull’s research can be found on the Colgate Bicentennial page linked below.


The Pets of History: Ivan

By History Department on March 11, 2019

Meet Ivan Douglas a two month old kitten. He likes flowers, ukuleles, cat food, and of course history and historians! 

Ivan was a rescue by the Norwich SPCA, and was adopted when he was seven weeks old. His favorite cat food is beef Fancy Feast. Pencils, computer cables, and random twigs also seem to be important components of his diet at the moment, until they are confiscated. He also contemplatively chews on his own tail for a minute or two before recalling that he doesn’t like the flavor. Sadly, Ivan is not a candidate for feline Mensa. He’s extremely sweet-natured, with the softest fur, but his is truly the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He is loved just the same.

Professor Rotter Speaks at History Conversation

By History Department on February 27, 2019

On Thursday, February 7th, at the Colgate History Department’s first History Conversations of the semester, Professor Andy Rotter spoke about his experience teaching at the Mohawk Correctional Facility this past fall. The room was packed with professors and students filling every corner of the classroom. Everyone was eager to hear about Professor Rotter’s unique experience and learn more about the Colgate program that allows professors to teach inmates.

Professor Rotter explained that the U.S. history course he taught was part of an Associate’s Degree program that the Mohawk Correctional Facility offers to inmates fitting certain criteria (such as having a high school diploma and good behavior during their incarceration). Colgate participates in the program through Herkimer County Community College (HCCC), alongside Hamilton College, and allows professors to teach their course at the prison in lieu of one of their normal Colgate courses. Professor Rotter spoke about how hard he pushed the inmates academically, assigning about a book a week and requiring three essays and three tests from his students. He also highlighted how hard the students worked in return, often going above and beyond. He even provided an anecdote, in which he found himself having to keep up with the inmates after he assigned excerpts from a book and the class came in bursting with questions, having read the entire thing. The students, Professor Rotter said, were interested in history because they didn’t see it as dead—they saw it as fun. “That’s a perfectly good reason to study history,” Professor Rotter said. Professor Rotter also noted that he felt both sad and relieved every time he left the facility after teaching, noting his ability to leave when his students lacked that freedom. He explained how he felt sad on the last day of class because he knew he would miss teaching there, and still does.

After Professor Rotter finished his talk, there was a Q&A about what he taught, what he learned and how the experience has shaped his perspective on history, the prison system, higher education and Colgate. An overarching theme of the lecture was the fact that Colgate is a privileged place and both the students and faculty left feeling lucky to be here, both receiving and contributing to higher education.

Article and photograph by Karrie Spychalski ’19.

Max Goldenberg ’21 Speaks with Professor Robinson About Upcoming Book

By History Department on January 23, 2019

Professor Robinson’s upcoming book is featured in a Colgate News article by Max Goldenberg ’21.

A half-buried funerary figurine from the tomb of the Ming Prince of Qin, outside today’s Xi’an, the provincial seat of Shaanxi Province (Photo by David Robinson)

Graduate Assists Historical Society in Maine

By History Department on December 21, 2018
A view from the neighborhood in Brooksville, Maine

When I accepted my professor’s offer to put me in contact with a representative from the Brooksville Historical Society, my own readiness shocked me. I knew I would be living and working among strangers and tackling a formidable project, yet I was eager to pack up my car and drive 26 hours from Miami, Florida to a land far, far away (in every sense). After in May with my Bachelor’s Degree in History I had not imagined I could be working in the field I was so passionate about, so quickly. I am thrilled to share some of the progress I have made. 

The change begun here at the Historical Society before my arrival in late August has only accelerated over the past few months. The office space on the display floor was demolished on September 22nd. After the room was thoroughly cleaned (a project that involved the removal of numerous bird nests previously nestled amid the pink insulation), it became clear the freed-up space would be a huge asset to future exhibit plans. Indeed the existing exhibits are getting a much-needed facelift and a temporary exhibit space will soon be available for rotating “themes.” These changes should allow the historical society to showcase more it its collection and engage with a wide range of historical subjects and time periods.    

Throughout my time here I have also maintained a focus on collections management. After a long, frustrating battle with Microsoft Access, the database was transferred to an Excel spreadsheet. This switch has allowed us to manipulate the layout and get a handle on our collections; I have been able to remove duplicate entries and mark objects for potential deaccession, while organizing each object into an exhibit category. The spreadsheet has been uploaded to a new laptop computer and I have spearheaded a tutorial, held during the monthly meeting in November, to familiarize the board members with the updated system. 

I have also been involved in a number of smaller projects. Two weeks ago, Connie Henkel donated a collection of birth, death, and marriage certificates from the early 20thcentury. I wrote worksheets for each certificate – in an attempt to transcribe the valuable genealogical information contained – and organized them into three separate binders. I then made alphabetical indices for each collection. The binders are now ready to go up onto shelves in our new archive room, a project making great strides as winter approaches – our last step is simply to paint the walls! Looking forward, my next project will involve labelling each object in the collection. I have conducted a significant amount of research on the proper labelling techniques for different materials like wood, fabric, and paper, and I have experimented with the use of Acryloid B-72 lacquer, a clear and reversible coating that can allow us to number objects without damaging them. This November, I began labeling boxes of material with their proper accession number and I certainly have a long road ahead of me. 

The Historical Society Museum

Brooksville’s collection is full of wonderful surprises, from finely preserved letters featuring beautiful (and nearly impossible to read) handwriting, to unique early 19thc. refrigerators posing as unassuming blanket chests, and I am certain current changes will allow the museum to become the community resource and the “hidden gem” it should be. I sincerely thank everyone on the board for allowing me to fiddle around with the Society’s artifacts and welcoming a youngster from Florida with open arms.  

Article and photographs by Lauren Fairman ’18, pictured above.