Hi everyone! My name is Caitlin Williamson. I’m a senior History/Secondary Education double-major, and for the last three years I’ve been a student assistant in the History Department. As a department assistant, one of the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on is captioning the photographs in the Coffee Shop (aka “C-shop”). C-shop is plastered with photographs depicting the history of the College, but until recently, there was no information to go with them, leaving visitors ignorant of what they were looking at. It has been a pleasure working on this task as well as for this department, and I am so thrilled to see this project finished before I graduate!
Q: How did the coffee shop captions project get started?
A: This project was started years ago, before I was even a student here. Prof. Salerno teaches a course on Public History (then called Applied History) in which students take on a public history project of their own. Two students (Eric Boumil ‘14 and Tim Anderson ‘15) noticed that there were many photographs of the history of the college in the Coffee Shop, but there were no captions or any way to identify the people, places, and things that were in these photographs. The project was large and therefore could not be finished in one semester, and so Kristen Van Uden ‘16, a department assistant took it on. When I was hired in my freshman year in 2015, I worked on the project with Kristen, and upon her graduation, it became mine. This years-long project was finally completed this September 2018.
Q: What was the most difficult picture or type of picture to identify?
A: Without a doubt, the most difficult type of picture to identify was one that had absolutely no information left with it. This is my PSA: now, more than ever in the digital age, please pay attention to how you leave information with your photographs! Think of the poor student in the future who has to research your photograph with no information attached to it! In all seriousness though, the most difficult ones were those of landscapes or with no people in them. It was possible to figure out pictures with people in them, since someone could recognize them. While some of the landscape pieces had identifying markers that could give us a general idea of when the photograph was taken, sometimes we could only pin it to the decade. Additionally, there was no way to tell why the photograph had been taken. As beautiful as these pictures are, they were the most difficult to identify.
Q: What kinds of sources did you find to help identify images/information?
A: I relied on a variety of resources during this project, the most important of which was Google. Google was my best friend throughout this entire project. There are images of quite a few notable alumni hanging on the walls, and sometimes a simple Google search of their name would connect me to information. However, that was not always the case, and more specific details were at times much harder to find. The old College catalogs, some of which are digitized (with the rest located in Geisel Library), were very helpful, as they listed every student who attended the College in a given year, as well as other information about the College. Additionally, the College magazine, Portraits, had a lot of information about the history of the school that was invaluable.
A number of people were also incredibly helpful. Keith Chevalier, the College Archivist, possesses an amazing wealth of knowledge about Saint Anselm College and was a huge help when a photograph was particularly difficult to identify. Additionally, members of the monastery were able to identify some of the photographs over the course of this project.
Q: What did the project teach you about the history of photographs, the history of the College, or the highs and lows of public history projects like this?
A: I really enjoyed how much I learned about the history of the College while doing this project. I feel like everyone on campus knows the basic story, but being able to dive deeper and really know how we were founded, what student life used to be like, and see all the changes that happened on campus over the past 129 years, made me feel so much more connected to Saint Anselm College than I would have been without doing this project. A few of my favorite things I found out during this process: early in the College’s history, we had an ornithological (bird-watching) society, and it was the most popular club on campus; women were at first only allowed in the nursing program, before being allowed in the liberal arts program years later; and Saint A’s didn’t have a football team through the last half of the 1900s due to low enrollment because of World War II (the team was reinstated in the 1990s). And we have alumni who have gone on to become professional athletes, notable school administrators, and even an Olympic bobsledder!
I also learned a lot about public history. I discovered that many people will not notice when there are no captions, or not notice when some seemingly magically appear on the walls. That was definitely a low. But I also experienced the high of figuring out a caption for a particularly difficult picture, learning something completely new about the College, or even having someone say “oh yeah, I noticed there are captions now!” when I mentioned to them the project I was doing. I’m sure my friends were bored with me pointing out the new captions each time they went up, but I’d just like to thank them for cheering me on (and taking the time to read a couple!).
Q: What other activities are you involved in on campus?
A: In addition to working in the History Department, I am an Ambassador for the Office of Admission. I give tours and conduct interviews with prospective students, and I love every second of it. I feel like my tours have gotten better because of my work on this project. I feel more connected with the College, and I also have quite a few SAC fun facts in my back pocket to tell families. I’m also involved with the Meelia Center for Community Engagement. I’m a coordinator for Access Academy, which is a program where refugee, immigrant, and underrepresented students earn high school credit by taking a class at Saint A’s taught by students of the College. I teach Public Speaking, and my students blow me away with their dedication and skill every semester. If I’m not in the History Department, Admission, or Meelia, you may find me at a club meeting, in the library, or cooking in my apartment with my roommates.
Q: Do you see yourself integrating a project like this with your students when you teach?
A: Before doing this project, I would have said no. Local history isn’t something that is often studied at the high school level. But having finished this project, I would love doing something like this with my students in the future. Although my students may come from many different backgrounds ethnically, religiously, linguistically, financially, etc., one thing they will all have in common is belonging to the same school community. I think local history is tangible in a way that US History or World History, broadly, isn’t to students who don’t have a passion for it. I think a project like this would also suit the high school classroom, because a lot of the time I hear from people “I never liked history, it was just memorizing a bunch of dates and facts,” and I want to shout from the rooftops that no, it isn’t, it is so much more than that! A project like this shows people just how much more the study of history can be. That it is important, valuable, interesting, and worthwhile.