History Course Examines Tumultuous Student Life at Virginia Tech in the 1960s
May 15, 2018
Department of History faculty member Marian Mollin wanted to make her course, A Nation Divided: America in the 1960s, a bit more personal than a broad sweep coverage of American history during that tumultuous decade would normally allow.
“I wanted to add a component of local history that students could more personally relate to, which was the history of their own university,” said Marian Mollin. That’s where the University Libraries Special Collections stepped in.
Archivist Marc Brodsky and his colleagues made available issues from the 1960s of the student newspaper The Virginia Tech, which in 1970 became the Collegiate Times. “Special Collections and the staff of Special Collections played an invaluable role in this project,” said Mollin.
“Students did come in and look at the physical papers to identify an article they wanted to work with. But, we also put the files for the appropriate years on a computer in the Reading Room,” said Brodsky. “Once they found an interesting article, they could copy the appropriate issue or page or send the file to themselves from the Special Collections’ reading room computer, which allowed them to work with the article away from the library. They experienced looking through the hard copy, but also got a good-looking, ready-for-presentation image of the text,” added Brodsky. The students used these scanned images for blog posts, class presentations and the final exhibit in Newman Library.
“I’d like to add that while it’s important to have digitized runs of The Virginia Tech, nothing can replace the experience of being able to turn the pages and flip through the articles in the physical volumes. This helps create an almost visceral connection to the past,” said Mollin.
Through 16 student-designed posters, the class presents a sample of the themes and issues that defined student life at Virginia Tech in the 1960s, placing them in historical context through descriptive narrative and The Virginia Tech clippings. With the help of Scott Fralin, University Libraries exhibits program manager and learning environments librarian, the students were able to display their work in an engaging and interesting way.
“It’s important for students to see that the research they do actually matters, and one way to do that is to share the results of their work with the wider Virginia Tech community, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors. Creating an exhibit in the library that would be readily accessible to the general public — and which would showcase the students’ work in an elegant and professional manner — seemed like an ideal way to achieve this goal,” said Mollin.
The posters feature key themes of the 1960s, such as gender relations, race relations, globalization, anti-authority sentiment, politics, war, and social change.
“My students and I hope that people who view the exhibit will get some sense of the complicated — and sometimes conflicted — nature of student life at Virginia Tech during the 1960s, understand that change did not always come easily to this university, and perhaps see interesting parallels between the present and the past,” said Mollin.
VT in the 1960s will be on display on the second floor of Newman Library until Aug. 10, 2018.
Written by Ann Brown