the 350-ton Arbella sailed toward the Shawmut peninsula--later known as
Boston--in the spring of 1630, its creaking hold stocked with 10,000 gallons
of beer, 3,500 gallons of water and about 100 anxious Puritans, John Winthrop
composed a famous covenant.
"Wee must delight in each other; make each other's conditions
our oune, rejoice together, mourne together, labour and suffer together,
allwayes haueving before our eyes our commission and community in the
worke, as members of the same body," Winthrop, a lawyer, wrote for a lay
sermon he titled "Christian Charitie, a Modell hereof."
Winthrop's model for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with
his sweeping vision of "a citty on a hill," has become a template for
Americans' understanding of this country's special place in the world,
and the sermon will always be considered crucial to the study of early
American history, according to Helena Wall, the Warren Finney Day Professor
of History at Pomona.
That's one reason why it will be a subject of the first
lecture in a series that will begin next fall under the sponsorship of
the College's new Hart Institute for American History. Wall is the director
of the Institute, established as part of The Campaign for Pomona College
through a gift from Gurnee F. Hart '51. The inaugural lecture series will
be organized around the theme of "American Dreams" and will feature some
of the nation's most eminent historians.
"The basic premise is to ground a discussion of a broad
and abiding theme of American history in close reading of important primary
documents," says Wall, who has taught at Pomona since 1984. "It's important
that we think about documents in as broad a way as possible, so it's not
just literary documents, or canonical documents like the Declaration of
Independence. There's room for that, but there's also room for things
like photographs, or American music." The Institute's range also can be
extended, Wall says, through an expansive view of the term "American"
history, one that takes into account hemispheric influences and comparative
Besides arranging five lectures in the coming academic
year, the Hart Institute will organize workshops, to be led by visiting
lecturers, for both students and faculty. Plans also call for an upper-division
student seminar each semester to run in conjunction with the lecture themes
and materials. Other initiatives in the works include grants for research
work in American history by Pomona students, a faculty seminar, a publication
program, summer workshops for high school and community college teachers,
and projects for local high school students.
Wall wants the Hart Institute to engage a wide spectrum
of students and faculty. "It's important to me that this not become some
sort of bailiwick for historians and American Studies people," she says.
"I want this to be of interest to and of use to the whole College. I want
the series to touch upon a range of interdisciplinary issues." As just
one example, a lecture planned for next March will feature Columbia University
historian Alan Brinkley, who will examine the Great Depression and the
photographs of Dorothea Lange. Marjorie Harth, director of Montgomery
Gallery, is planning a concurrent exhibit to supplement the lecture and
workshops, and a seminar is expected to be held at the Getty Center in
The first speaker in the series will be Bernard Bailyn,
a professor emeritus of early American history from Harvard University,
who in October will discuss Winthrop and religious radicalism and utopianism
in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bailyn has been awarded the Jefferson
Medal of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the nation's most
prestigious honor in the humanities.
David Brion Davis, a Yale University historian and director
of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and
Abolition, will speak in November on the Declaration of Independence,
slavery, and ways in which disenfranchised groups used the Declaration
to press their claims to equality. Davis received the Pulitzer Prize for
nonfiction in 1967 for his book "The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture."
In January, Rebecca Scott of the University of Michigan,
one of the first North American scholars since 1959 to carry out research
in national and local archives in Cuba, will speak on U.S. imperialism
and the issue of defining citizenship within an imperial context, specifically
focusing on the U.S. occupation of Cuba. Scott is a past recipient of
a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, popularly
referred to as a "genius grant."
Thomas Holt of the University of Chicago will lecture
in February on Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and the issue of slavery
and emancipation in a hemispheric context. Holt, who has had a long-standing
interest in comparing the experiences of peoples in the African diaspora,
also is a past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
"We were incredibly lucky in the caliber of people we
were able to get," Wall says of the coming lecture series. "They are not
just first class, they are world class in their specialties."
One of the ideas Wall is considering for subsequent
years is a lecture series on "Public Intellectuals and Public Policy,"
which would examine works that have identified, popularized and framed
the debate over major public issues in American life and thought. Another
tentative theme would address American music, and Wall hopes it would
involve Pomona's Music Department.
Interaction outside the lecture hall is important, she
says. In the coming year, program participants "will be able to sit down
in a room with people like Bernard Bailyn and David Brion Davis and talk
with them about the documents that they've devoted their lives to studying.
I think that's a great opportunity for our students."
It's the kind of opportunity Gurnee Hart had in mind
in making the gift to establish the Institute. Hart, a retired partner
in the investment firm Scudder, Stevens & Clark, majored in economics
at Pomona and went on to receive a master's in business administration
from the Stanford Business School. "I've always had an interest in history
as an avocation," he says, and after his retirement he spent two terms
reading history at Jesus College of Cambridge University. He says the
Institute is "a very interesting intellectual initiative," and a timely
one, in light of reports that many students entering higher education
lack a full understanding of events that shaped the nation.
"I thought that on the campus there might be some niche
that could benefit from a nontraditional approach" to the teaching of
American history, says Hart. He hopes that through the new Institute's
programs, "students will gain a deeper understanding of history and an
appreciation of why the United States has been a beacon to the world for
so many years, despite the flaws that we have."
Wall says the programs "will give people a chance to
talk about really important, major things in American history. A lot of
people worry about the degree to which the study of history in general
has become irrelevant to the public at large, that historians, more and
more, talk in very specialized ways to each other, and that kind of neglect
of history is problematic. I think this will be a way to redirect attention
to some issues and documents and problems of abiding concern.
"What I care about," she says, "is that people reach
informed conclusions about American history and ground their views in
appropriate information and evidence and the historical context. It doesn't
bother me in the least that people will reach different conclusions or
have different perspectives."
In fact, says Wall, she wants students to recognize
that "reading these historical documents and thinking about the issues
they raise is both a continuing and a collaborative process. I hope students
will see that there's always plenty of rethinking, and reexamination,
and new angles that open up." It's especially important that the study
of history not be regarded as a dusty exhumation
of names, dates and treaties, Wall says. "History is
really about the study of people who are making sense of the world in
which they live, in a variety of ways," she says. "It's about the interplay
between people's own wills and desires and motivations, and the circumstances
in which they find themselves.
"That's what students lose when they focus on names
and dates: It's inert. But history is about living, breathing people who
are struggling and making decisions and changing their lives." --Michael