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History (exhibits) in the Making

Katie Harding and Shaun Akhtar presenting at the Dartmouth Club of the Upper Valley's symposium.


The Dartmouth Club of the Upper Valley hosted a seminar on Saturday February 23rd, 2019  to learn about planning for one aspect of this year’s sestercentennial celebration. We learned even more than we expected.

The Club holds monthly receptions and talks to allow members to meet new senior staff of the College and learn about new programs. Like other Dartmouth Clubs around the country, we hold a day-long seminar once a year to lure our members back into the classroom and extend our Dartmouth Experience beyond our memories into new areas of learning.

This year we were treated to a seminar created by the Dartmouth libraries staff to teach us about how they create the special exhibits that appear periodically in the main corridor of Baker Library we remember for its former card catalogs and in the “main street” corridor into the newer Berry building.

Sue Mehrer welcomed the “class” and introduced the staff of librarians, curators, and designers who engaged our minds and answered our questions for the next five hours.

Laura Barrett presented overviews of about a dozen exhibits created by staff and undergraduate students over the past few years. I was impressed by the wide variety of topics that are addressed, from collected papers of author Mario Puzo, jewelry design, Chinese graphic novels, student-created bookplates, and protests at Dartmouth that all draw on — and draw student attention to — Library resources.We were treated to glimpses of upcoming exhibits on images of Native Americans, food culture, George Ticknor and an alumnus some of us knew, graphic designer John Scotford.

But the main theme was the four special exhibits this year that focus on the themes the College has chosen to frame our 250-year history: Sense of Place, Liberal Arts, Fellowship, Adventuresome Spirit.

The first exhibit “On Solid Ground" was described by Jay Satterfield and Peter Carini. It became clear how each subject has a flattering perspective and some images, artifacts and texts that show a side that may be viewed from a more modern perspective with less pride or comfort. Yet, that is our history to be embraced and understood.

The third part of the seminar focused on Dartmouth’s engagement, over the centuries, with the Liberal Arts.  Wendel Cox and Daniel Abosso showed, read and sang how the picture has changed from a 16th C. woodcut of a tower to the newer tower that is Baker. We will look forward to their exhibit when it goes on display.

After lunch, and a walk-through to view the first of the four exhibits already on display, Dennis Grady described the tools he uses and the spatial limitations and other challenges he faces to create the physical exhibits in six unevenly-spaced windows behind tables, chairs and student commotion. Next, Laura Braunstein presented the goals of the “digital” librarian. The “Dartmouth 250” exhibits will be available on-line to share with the world.

Shaun Akhtar and Katie Harding reflected on how they wrestled with the historical notions of fellowship and community, inclusivity and exclusion, over the years at Dartmouth. We alumni see ourselves and our long years of experience as a continuation of that fellowship.

Finally, Amy Witzel discussed the fourth theme, "Adventuresome Spirit”, and sought discussion and input into what concepts, people and artifacts might best represent this important aspect of Dartmouth history.

We are grateful to the library staff for sharing their time, expertise, and insights into what has made our College tick — and tock — over its first 250 years.

Written by Charles Sherman, '66.

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