One of the best parts of teaching is finding out what interesting things our history alumni do with their lives years or decades after graduation. Recently, One Thing after Another heard about a fascinating archival and oral history project and tracked down the researcher. He turned out to be not only an Saint Anselm College history alum but also the current Assistant Director of the Academic Resource Center on campus, Benjamin Horton ’12. One Thing after Another asked him about the research project and what he’d been up to for the last several years.
Q: You graduated from Saint Anselm College as a history major in 2012. What do you remember most clearly from your time on the Hilltop?
A: In the summer between my sophomore and junior years, with the help of Professor Masur and other History faculty, I obtained a history internship at the Silvio O. Conte National Records Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I helped to run the reading room there and through this experience became interested in archival and genealogical research. This work allowed me to practice and teach archival and genealogical methods, culminating in an archival research project focusing on Irish immigration in the 19th century, conducted in collaboration with the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. Many of the archival research skills that I learned working for the National Records Center have since become integral to my doctoral dissertation work.
During the Fall of 2010, with the guidance of Fr. Augustine Kelly O.S.B., I pursued a scholarship opportunity co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the British Council, to take part in the Irish-American Scholars Program. This is a year-long full scholarship to live, study, and teach history on Falls Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This neighborhood is frequently referred to as “ground zero” for politically and religiously motivated violence between Loyalist Protestant and Nationalist Catholic communities. While studying at Saint Mary’s College of Queen’s University, I taught history courses in an under-resourced school on the “Peace Wall” that divides the two communities. I also served as a community liaison between Saint Mary’s College and the Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast.
When I returned to Saint Anselm College, during my senior year, I had the chance to intern at the Saint Anselm College Archives under the direction of the College Archivist, Keith Chevalier. These archives, which house artifacts and documents dating back to the 1880s, gave me firsthand knowledge and experience in researching the history of Saint Anselm. This experience proved among the most powerful of my four years at Saint Anselm as Keith taught me so much about the art of historical inquiry. He took great care to provide me with meaningful work and to mentor me, always taking the opportunity to tie my work with the history classes I was taking at Saint Anselm and the skills I was learning. This experience deepened my passion for the study of history and provided me with the tools I needed to be proficient in archival research methods.
Q: After graduating, what did you go on to do?
A: When I was a senior, my advisor in the History Department, Fr. William Sullivan O.S.B., suggested that my passion for education in troubled urban environments could make a real difference in the world. I came across the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE) programs, which provide graduate students an opportunity to teach for two years in under-resourced Catholic schools while pursuing graduate education.
I decided to attend the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program in 2012 as a middle school history, English, and religion teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg, FL. I also had the opportunity to do my practicum experience at John Adams High School in South Bend, Indiana and Elkhart Memorial High School in Elkhart, Indiana. These opportunities helped me improve my skills as a history teacher and to carry on my passion for serving students.
Q: You came back to SAC in 2014 as Assistant Director of the Academic Resource Center. What made you want to come back to the Hilltop in this role?
A: Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my time at Saint Anselm College. My father, an alumnus of Saint Anselm College’s class of 1977, and my mother, an alumna of the class of 1978, met at the College and were married on campus, something the College started doing for alumni in the mid-1970s. My father worked at Saint Anselm for forty years in various student affairs capacities and taught for the Humanities program as well as in the Department of Criminal Justice. As I grew up, Saint Anselm became an integral part of my childhood and the people I came to know there became like family to me.
I worked as a mentor and tutor in the College’s Academic Resource Center as an undergraduate. I also served as a history tutor and writing assistant. Spending long hours in the ARC as a student, this place truly felt like home for me. When Professor LaFleur retired after many years in the ARC, I was excited by the prospect of returning to the Hilltop and overseeing the Peer Tutor Program. Working alongside Kenn Walker, Caitlin Albright, and Ann-Maria Contarino (my former Freshman English instructor, and one of the kindest people on campus) has been a true joy for me over the course of the past few years. The Benedictine monks of Saint Anselm Abbey view one’s work as the highest form of prayer. In the ARC, our professional staff seeks to embody this important aspect of the Benedictine charism in our interactions with students, faculty, staff, and alumni on a daily basis. Ultimately, it all comes down to love of Saint Anselm and love of our students.
Q: You actually join a number of former history majors who work at the College including Lee Joyce ’94 and Cassandra (Loftus) McCue ‘08 in Admissions (go here for a post about Loftus). Is there something about being a history major that inspires you or prepares you well for these types of positions?
A: I certainly am humbled to work with other History majors like Lee and Cassandra. While I won’t speak for them, I think the thing that draws us all back here is the wonderful sense of community we have. The faculty and staff really have their priorities straight—a genuine emphasis on students and on serving the common good. As a History major, learning to read, write, and think critically prepared me to do my best in my professional role here.
Q: Now you are pursing your PhD in Higher Education and Leadership Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Your dissertation project “Perspectives on Change: The Coeducational Transition of Saint Anselm College, 1969-1979” seems to draw together your love of history and of education. Can you tell us more about this project?
A: My dissertation examines Saint Anselm College’s transition to a fully coeducational Benedictine Catholic liberal arts college between 1969 and 1979, using archival documents and oral history interviews with female alumnae, who experienced campus life firsthand during the 1960s and 1970s. I am interested in the factors that contributed to Saint Anselm College becoming a coeducational institution and the significant impacts on campus culture and environment.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Saint Anselm underwent an period of great change. During the 1960s, women were bussed onto campus from hospital-based residences in Manchester. Women were allowed on campus for restricted periods of time and their activities at the College were limited. Women were not allowed in the dining hall and had nowhere to gather outside of classroom buildings and the Coffee Shop.
In 1969, the College appointed Sr. Nivelle Berning O.S.B. as Saint Anselm’s first Dean of Women. This move marked an important period of transition for the College, as Joan of Arc Hall (or as it was known then, “The Nursing Dorm”) was constructed. Once women were admitted into the residential portion of the College, it changed campus culture almost immediately. During this period (the early 1970s), the College began to employ more female faculty and staff and to create activities and recreational spaces for female students. Bertrand Hall, Raphael Hall “The Studio”, St. Mary’s Hall, and Alumni Hall Streets were all renovated or constructed to make room for additional female housing during the early 1970s. These projects significantly altered the physical plant of the College and marked a period of the College’s investment in infrastructure and programming for female students.
With the admission of women into the Liberal Arts program in the fall of 1974, the College made its full transition to coeducation. The influx of women on campus not only increased the quality and number of applicants to the College but also made the College more financially stable. This period would define and sustain the College during an otherwise challenging period. Saint Anselm College was the first Benedictine College nationwide to transition to co-education.
Q: Working full time and getting a PhD must keep you really busy! When you get spare time, what do you enjoy doing with it?
A: My wife Alex (a 2011 Saint Anselm graduate) and I live in Manchester. We were married at Saint Anselm Abbey Church in 2015. Alex’s passion is small business, and in 2013, she opened Café la Reine on Elm St. in Manchester. It is a small downtown coffee shop. While Alex is usually the busy one, when the two of us aren’t working or writing, we enjoy giving back to the great Manchester community through a variety of service and business activities. We love Manchester and all of the wonderful things to do here. We also both love a good cup of coffee!
In the summer you’re likely to find us downtown enjoying lunch with friends. We also both enjoy fishing, kayaking, and being outdoors with our pup, a standard schnauzer named “Keefe.” Alex first met Keefe when she was volunteering at the Manchester Animal Shelter in 2015. Since then, we adopted him, and he has become part of the family.