Hidden in Plain Sight
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About the Collection

Each day on campus, most of us walk past some object that we don’t give even a moment’s thought. Since I often assign topics in Gettysburg College history to students in History 300, it occurred to me about a year ago that it would be interesting to see what today’s crop of students would make of an assignment that asked them to tell the story of some object or place on campus that was, in effect, “hidden in plain sight.”

I never did get any student to tell the story of the Beachem Portico to Pennsylvania Hall, or the little white bricks saying “class of ’37 ivy,” but over two semesters that the project ran, I received a range of useful and sometimes fascinating papers. The best papers showed student initiative in seeking out alumni or former faculty to shed light on a particular topic, while also exploiting the rich collections in Musselman Library. For example, a student writing about the Hatter Planetarium tracked down the first professor in the physics department (Eugene Milone, now a professor at the University of Calgary) for his insights about the early programs. A student who wrote about the swastikas on the first floor of Breidenbaugh Hall took an impromptu poll of students and faculty entering and leaving the building, asking what they thought the swastika represented. (He received quite a range of replies!) One student, a Civil War buff, wrote about the Ohio monument on the corner of Carlisle Street and Lincoln Avenue—providing good background on why that monument came into existence and what it commemorated. One of my favorite papers focused its attentions on the gargoyles adorning Glatfelter Hall, while another told the story of the mineral collection now residing in two handsome cases on the first floor of the new Science Complex.

A wayside plaque on North Washington Street, adjacent to the Intercultural Resource Center, tells briefly the story of Daniel Alexander Payne, an exceptional African-American student at the Gettysburg Seminary who received permission teach classes at the college to “colored students” early in Gettysburg College history. Payne’s story was fleshed out by a student who made good use of the internet.

What these papers were supposed to accomplish, in part, was to get students to think more intentionally about material culture they mainly take for granted on campus—and then test their creativity and diligence in tracking down evidence that would help illuminate the object or building they chose to explore. I was pleased with the work students did for these papers. I am delighted to know that they are now being made available to a wider audience, thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of a team of librarians, library assistants, and IT staffers. Enjoy “Hidden in Plain Sight.” And, alumni: don’t hesitate to share your own favorite object that was “hidden in plain sight” during your own student days.

Michael J. Birkner
Professor of History
Benjamin Franklin Prof. of Liberal Arts

 

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