History-telling projects highlight Council on Virginia Tech History recommendations
October 11, 2018
After many months of work this past spring and summer, the Council on Virginia Tech History has met with President Tim Sands to share its recommendations to invest in broad-based programs reflecting the multiple perspectives of the university's shared history.
Sands was supportive of the group’s recommendations and agreed to provide up to $250,000 in seed money to develop concrete plans, funding approaches, and evidence of the projects’ intentions.
A central intent, noted council chair Bob Leonard, is for the university community to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2022 by engaging the many voices of Virginia Tech when telling the university’s history.
“From our initial meeting in January, it became clear to us that there is not just one Virginia Tech story . . . there are many,” said Leonard, a professor in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences whose scholarship involves developing strong collaborative community partnerships. “We believe some of those stories have been told and some have not, and some are known but not spoken.
“The council strongly believes that previously silent stories must be voiced, such as those of under-represented and historically marginalized groups, and that complicated histories not be hidden, but instead, be related in full context,” added Leonard.
“Seeking to implement the charge given us by President Sands,” said Peter Wallenstein, professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, “the council pretty quickly came to a collective commitment that our work is not simply descriptive but also visionary, pointing to ways we would like to see campus culture develop in the years ahead. It is also collaborative, as we enlist people from across the university in our various endeavors.”
“We have identified the importance of creating presentations that embody campus history as public history,” said Leonard. “This work should be viewed as a two-way exchange between the history of Virginia Tech and the public – one in which the public not only learns from the history presented, but also helps to create and inform that history.”
“Through our sesquicentennial celebration, we have a unique opportunity to highlight the institution’s emerging strengths over the generations and its substantial contributions to the wider world, as well as the range of experiences on campus,” said Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “Our project recommendations, some of which are already under way in some fashion, will help members of our community to not only learn more about our history but also contribute to it.”
The project proposals identified by the council include:
- Physical landscape: To commission an outdoor work of art to honor the Native American legacy, both in terms of the indigenous occupants of the land on which the university is located and in terms of the vast western territory without which there would have been no land-grant system.
- “If this place could talk”: Using the Beyond Boundaries model of transdisciplinary collaboration, tell the history of the university through Virginia Tech’s future-minded educational approach.
- VT Stories: An existing oral history project that collects stories of Virginia Tech alumni, faculty, staff, and community members to foster better understanding of the university’s complex campus history as public history could generate content necessary for other history projects.
- Live performance: Proposed by the School of Visual and Performing Arts, stand-alone performances or those integrated with visual or image technology could have an extraordinary impact in telling the story of Virginia Tech’s history.
- Orange to Maroon: For the university’s 125th anniversary, Wallenstein wrote what he refers to as “Orange,” a brisk tour of university’s history. For the sesquicentennial, he seeks to publish “Maroon,” an updated and more comprehensive history of the institution and its people and programs. He also plans to produce “Orange 2.0” by 2019.
“As a university, we’ve laid an excellent foundation for the establishment of inclusion and diversity as a permanent, integral part of our community, and the work of the history council only reinforces that commitment,” said Sands. “I am deeply grateful to all those who serve on this council and affirmed a deep commitment to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence.”
Prior to presenting its recommendations to Sands, workgroups on content development, presentation of content, and community outreach/engagement were formed. Moving forward, the council will work with project teams to develop strategies for public engagement in all areas.
“If we think solely in terms of creating presentations, we will accomplish what most organizations do,” said Leonard. “The engagement part will make it a fully experienced process so that people think about the stories they hear and how it influences how we think of ourselves. The real opportunity here is to impact the future rather than only telling ourselves about the past.”
Last fall, a broad and representative group of 25 Virginia Tech faculty, students, alumni, and community members formed this ad hoc advisory council to consider Virginia Tech’s history in the context of today and the Beyond Boundaries vision as the university prepares for its sesquicentennial. The council engaged with other members of the university community to consider Virginia Tech’s history and its connection to the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation at large.
During his State of the University Address on Sept. 7, Sands directed Vice President for Advancement Charlie Phlegar to establish a sesquicentennial planning committee. The Council on Virginia Tech History will be represented on the planning committee.