Living History

My name is Cody, I am a senior and I am visiting W&M this semester from Siena College through the NIAHD program. It is a partnership between the CW and the history department. During my semester here, I am studying Colonial history and I am interning in CW.

What made you decide to take part in this?

I am an American History major. Ever since I was little I have always been interested in the American Revolution. Fast forward a couple of years and I was applying to Siena, I learned about this program, of which I would actually be the fifth student at Siena to participate in. Being able to engage with the American Revolution in a different way has been a really great experience. I have been able to learn a lot of new perspectives. Being in Virginia, it has a very different experience with the Revolution and growing up in New York, the narrative is very dominated by the Massachusetts experience, so that has been very great. Also being down here I have been able to see William and Mary which has been just a great community of people.

Every day I have been here, I have been very impressed by William and Mary in a very different fashion, from the work ethic that people have to the kind interactions between people and their dedication to their work, it has been very inspiring and motivating to me and my work, to just keep working hard. I have really enjoyed W&M, I would really like to come back here someday.

I am always curious about other Colleges, so it is cool to hear you share that experience. What do you think is different about where you come from in Siena at W&M?

I have compared Siena and W&M in quite a few ways. They are both different atmospheres. I wouldn’t say I don’t like Siena, I love my college and looking back on my college decision, I made the right choice. I love the community there. It is a bit smaller, it is close knit, I have been able to study what I wanted to study. I have always been a very spread out person, I will be graduating in May with a double major in history and political science, and I will be finishing up with minors in German, Broadcast Journalism, pre-law, Revolutionary era studies, and in the honors program.

I am finishing up seven different programs, the most of any student in Siena, and last semester I came out of serving six E-boards, two jobs on campus, and so I have been very busy. I was named Siena’s busiest kid on campus, they did a magazine spread on that. It was a riot.

So I guess in that regard I really like where I have been. But coming here I have been able to see things in a different way. Particularly I have loved the students in my program that are from different colleges as well, and the kids that I have met living in Barrett Hall. I have met kids that I have been able to engage with intellectually in a very diverse way, people here are very big thinkers and having that kind of intellectually stimulating conversations has been so refreshing. And I think that about the resources here too. It’s been great to engage with the culture of having CW right there and an ancient 325 year old campus, and to engage with that space, and to engage with people here than are enthusiastic about the arts, and showing up to the shows and the recitals, and the concerts, to see people engage with the traditions on campus, it has been such a culture I have loved being part of.

Everything my friend who did this program two years ago said about the program and more. He had so much FOMO in telling me about this program because he wants to be back here too. Everything he described and more has been really great.

Sometimes I think being here for a long time, especially being a senior, we take things for granted.

As a history major and an aspiring historian, I look into the nostalgia of places very much, and I eat into it. I guess what I mean by that is what other people have been here, what other things have happened here, and in a place like WIlliamsburg, as Virginia’s capital from 1699 until 1780, we have had some of the most prolific leaders of our nation’s early history that our students go on runs every morning and our students walk down with their Aroma’s coffee. We end up going and ringing the bell in the same building and the same halls that so many have walked through.Something as a historian I like to do is trying to get in the heads of these people, whether it be through the oral tradition, taking the clues of documents, and trying to recreate that experience.

I mean the building I live in Barrett Hall, is older than my college that I go to normally, this was founded in in 1926 and my college was founded in 1937. So there is something about having that shared experience with so many people, over so many years, over so many generations and thinking about all of the things that have changed during that time.Seeing that there is a campus that has witnessed so much history, and a college that was founded here before we were founded as a nation, there’s just something special about that. There are these big ideas, and I eat into that very much. There are a lot of these ideas and research questions that I would really like to pursue in grad school like how our nation’s leadership has been shaped out of people that grew out of here, and how the people that engaged with Williamsburg ended up shaping our country. I am really interested in Colonial history and Presidential history.  It has been a good mix, and having that engagement with history with the area has really been terrific.

One of the things I really appreciate of special collections is that they keep track of so much, for the people that will share that experience later on. I was doing research for my honors thesis on something that is very NY specific, on the history of Grover Cleveland, who is a very forgettable President, but I ended up going and they have all this information on him, who by all modern standards is very forgettable. This college impresses me in so many ways.

So you talk about history and nostalgia, so I think I think something that I often have a hard time with is reconciling our history. For instance the Wren Building was built by slaves and for many colonial history wasn’t a period that you could be nostalgic about because you couldn’t participate in it the same way. As a historian, how do you reconcile this?

There’s a lot of really big points in there. Williamsburg’s history is one that is really hard to reconcile at some points. One of the main things about colonial williamsburg is that if you are picturing the landscape and picturing the experience of people in the 1600s, one of the things that you have to remember is that 52 percent of Williamsburg’s population was enslaved.

The Special Collections has a list and a roster of all the people that the College of William & Mary owned. They just named Lemon Hall after one of those slaves. That is just one of many instances in our nation’s history. We have so much in our history to celebrate, but we also have so many things to question. I guess before coming here one of the biggest things that has changed my perspective of looking at it is how professors in the history department look at the founding fathers more critically than I ever would have before I ever came here.

I guess in childhood nostalgia in learning about the founding fathers, I would consider myself more of a celebrant of them. I just visited mount vernon with one of my classes on Thursday and I really do play into that. But you also have to think that these people did own these other people, you also have to think that states south of us ended up moving Native Americans halfway across the country in the 1830s Trail of Tears to a place that they weren’t familiar with and wasn’t their home, you have to think about World War II and Japanese internment camps, and you have to think of so many points in our history.

And to reconcile that is to recognize that in our history as many things as there are to celebrate, there are many things to heed caution to. There are things that we need to learn from, from our own history, and the world’s history. And to document that accordingly and to document those experiences. One of the things that I really like about Mount Vernon is that they have an ongoing oral history project right now that they started in 2015, that they are reaching out and trying to find descendants of slaves that were owned by George Washington and were on Mount Vernon to capture the traditions and the stories that have been passed down for generations. I think there is a lot of value in projects like that. There is just so much to learn from our history.

There are many instances like that where there is the opportunity to learn more and dive into our history. Because there are just so many stories to tell.

I took a class in VA plantations and I learned about the enslaved person’s experience and being able to learn about it in a place where slavery took place has opened my eyes to history in a different viewpoint, especially hearing from native virginians on their takes on it. Also within my field of history, I have also been considering the field differently.

Before I came here I never knew that there was a discernment between academic historians and public historians, public historians being people that work in museums and academic researchers being professors. They don’t always see eye to eye, but there is kind of symbiotic relationship between the two. Williamsburg is one of the most practical applications of that. Exploring that has been really eye opening.

I think on a personal level, I have been learning more things by taking this semester as a study abroad experience, a study back in time experience, by going out of my comfort zone, trying new things, making  the most out of this experience through the people I have met, and to be outgoing and not hesitant to reach out to people and make new experiences. I think it is those connections and those experiences that have made everything so worthwhile. I have learned so much about being intellectually stimulated in conversation, being able to have that shared experience with others in that way, and it has been really eye opening to me too.

I am interning at the print shop in CW. I usually work every monday. I have been doing in costume, learning about being an 18th century printer’s apprentice. During that time, I have been working on capturing that experience. I have done everything from what a printer’s apprentice would learn like doing press work and I have also given a couple of tours to W&M students. I gave a tour to Barrett RA’s.

I also had the German house come in and do a session learning about printing, bookbinding, and German printing. I got to do their tour of the printing office. I really enjoy getting into costume though, it is an interesting experience.

How did you get into that experience?

My friend Alex who came here two years ago did more behind the scenes work, like computer generation and helping them with their website. My advisor for this program wanted me to do more archival research and that is what one of my friends is doing. I wanted to do more of the interpretation end of it. Part of that is led by wanting to experience history in more of a hands on way and the other part was inspired by the part that I do love to act and getting into costume. I did a lot of drama in high school, and did tons of musicals and plays throughout my high school career. Getting into costume, I thought it would be a lot of fun and I could step into the experience. I applied to the program in the Spring, I had my eye on the program for a while now, for almost three years now.

I had a lot of conversations with my advisers. They were like “I don’t think you will be able to fit it in,” and I was like “Well I will make it work.” I was glad that I was able to. I was able to choose what kind of trade I was able to do. I gravitated towards the print shop. I got to choose what kind of trade I got to do, looking at the different trades I gravitated towards the print shop because I am a journalism major and because I thought I have previously worked at a radio station. And this is 18th century radio. This is the way communication is happening.

Newspaper and the press is the way that communication is disseminated. We have newspapers that we are working on, for instance, people will see a newspaper that is printed on July 5th 1776 and people will buy it and think “Oh, the Declaration of Independence! It must be printed in there.” But in reality, it wasn’t printed until July 19th or so. Because they had no idea that it will happen in that time period. It ends up shaping how the Revolution is captured.

I have really enjoyed working in the print shop, I have another friend that works in the archives and she really loves it. The internship is a really integral part of the program that I am doing. One requirement is the internship and the other is taking a field trip class. Every Wednesday this semester from 8-5, our class has gotten into a little van and gone to all these places across Virginia, which has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all these different aspects of Virginia. Everything from women’s history, to the enslaved experience, everything from the gentrys experience, from Jamestown to Yorktown and Mount Vernon, it has been absolutely fascinating experience.

Why did you decide to come here senior year?

That is another question that I have gotten often. Other people have asked, “Well don’t you want to go through your last hurrah at your own school?” And yes, I was asked “do you have a lot of FOMO about not being there while all your friends are up there?” Sometimes. This was a program that had a really straight goal and I had backup plans in case this didn’t work out.

I was going to come spring semester junior year, which is a really popular time to go abroad, until one of my advisers pointed out that there is this class that you have to take if you are doing an honors thesis, and it happens to be spring semester junior year. So I chose to come here first semester senior year.

And I think it was a really good semester for me to come here in hindsight. If I didn’t come here this semester, I wouldn’t have met the people in my residence hall, which has been one of the best takeaways that I have had. Also I have been able to experience a college with an excellent law school and an excellent grad school. So I have been able to figure out the grad school search while here.

It has helped me step away from the  competition and the kind of high paced nature that I know my friends at Siena have. So while I know while they are getting more cutthroat than I like, as for who is going to what law school and what grad school, I have been able to take a step back from that and figure it out at my own pace. I’ve been able to get different opinions, and I have even been interested in studying at W&M or the DC area.

It also changed my perspective because I never thought I would leave the Capital Region of NY. That is kind of my home base, where I love the history, I am familiar with the resources. And I don’t know I have just had a changed perspective just by coming down to VA for a couple of months. It has been pretty good.
That’s just another thing about being here. People are just very supportive of each other here. I noticed the same thing when I toured law school, there is that same sense of collegiality. I know there are some law schools where there are people ripping each other’s textbooks. The TWAMP experience is very collegial and people are supporting each other in their endeavors, and there is not that same sense of competition, but there is that desire to dedication. And I know that I have several peers that are going on to do great things, they are very ambitious in their work endeavors. Not that I haven’t seen that at Siena, but the level that people are about that, and the amount of support people give to each other for that just speaks greatly about the community here.

Would you consider yourself a TWAMP?

I have been told that I fit the build by some of my friends. And I have asked them “Why do you say that?” And they said because I have end up having the same academic and the same getting involved ambitions, I guess on campus getting involved outside  of classes I have gone to some RHA meetings (I was VP of operations at Siena for 2 years), I started going to WCWM meetings, starting up radio shows there, and some of my friends have said “you’ve really put yourself out there.” And I just see it as putting yourself into what is around you. I love how so many people put themselves into what is around them too. There is just so much and so many opportunities, so many communities to be a part of, things that I really love – like the fact that we have such a rich acapella community here.

Oh yes, we have so many acapella groups. We have at least 14 or 15 at this point. One of my friends recently started FLOW, specifically for voices from diverse backgrounds that might not be represented in the mainstream acapella community.

That’s fantastic, and I just went to the law school and they have their own acapella group called Lawcapella. I was the music director of a capella group last year, and will be returning next semester. I love the fact that there is a supportive music culture. We don’t always feel that at Siena, there isn’t a music department, we have a creative arts department that is more interdisciplinary, so there is a tight knit community in that sphere but not always across campus.

But here you get a a history major, a government major, a film major, a physics major, a business major, and a bio major together to go to an orchestra concert together. I really appreciate that kind of thing. I love that there is an improv community here – I went to my first improve experience I think ever – Sandbox Improv – they did an excellent job.

I remember going to the activities fair and being overwhelmed by the clubs for all of the niche groups, and that was simply outstanding. I think the fact that the community is a bit larger than Siena offers a lot of opportunities.

Last two questions, we’ve been talking for a while now, but earlier you described as a senior you are graduating with many different majors (wow) and were described as the busiest person on campus, how would you reflect upon that experience and why do you do what you do?

I guess if you look back to HS and even middle school, I have a reputation of being everywhere.

(Chuckles heartily). I am only laughing at that because I have the same thing.

And I meet a lot of people that are like that. That is also one of the things I appreciate about W&M, being so involved in things, I don’t stand out, but I have friends that have the same experiences. Being everywhere, and you can probably attest to this too, I guess I ended up joining a lot of clubs and acquiring a diverse array of academic interests. When it came time for undergrad, they were like, “you got to narrow it down to something.” And I said “Do I really?” I didn’t necessarily. Instead of just narrowing down on just focusing on just this history, this political science major, and then ended up still pursuing all those interests I still had in high school and I have made it work somehow.

The more that I have been thinking about history, and I decided I wanted to go to grad school for history, I have been learning more and more how all the different programs I have had play into one another and how they enhance my experience of what I can bring to the table. Being involved in a lot of clubs too has given me an outlet for things outside of classes. Being in a ton of leadership positions and being on a smaller campus, it makes it easier to do that sometimes. One of my jobs on campus is working for the school of liberal arts and working for the dean of the liberal arts as her office assistant, so I have been able to get my hands in grant writing, research that will be released this fall, and research for a communications major that will be offered next fall.

I was involved in two rounds of searching for the next dean of liberal arts. Having those types of experiences I have been able to represent Siena last fall to visit some alumni in Washington DC one was the director of national drug control policy and the other was deputy director of the Department of National Intelligence. So I got to tour the CIA and the White House. And that was a great experience.

I have a done a lot and I try not to talk about myself ad nauseum, but reflecting on it having done so much in many different ways – I wouldn’t say in graduate studies I would narrow myself down so much, but I want to focus on history and I want to lay my sights on some goals I can make academically and figure out what I want to pursue after grad school, and look for ways to foster all of these interests.

One of my biggest historical interests Benjamin Franklin was a renaissance man, you can’t just assign one title to him, you have to assign at least 20. He has so many talents he is attributed with, and I would like to keep that same vein, being able to have thoughts and be knowledgeable about so many things is definitely a part of the liberal arts education, where you think horizontally instead of vertically. You start to think how something applies to a multitude of ways instead of just one. I plan to do what I can to help who I can, to be inspired and hopefully inspire a next generation. Keep working hard because that is what a good TWAMP does.

Last question: What are some of the experiences or memories that you will take with you and remember as you move into the next phase of life?

One of the biggest things I am going to miss is our weekly field trips. I am going to miss having the luxury of going to a different historical site every Wednesday and calling that historical site my classroom. I am a big proponent of field trips and I have been known by teachers and professors alike to lobbying for field trips whenever I can. I have been very successful a couple of times in very BSable ways. I was able to talk into one of my professors into one by asking her, “Dr. Drogan how can we make this a field trip class?” And we were talking about this class the history of technology, and we were brainstorming all the places we could go on a field trip, and she was like “yeah we can do it.” So we did end up taking a field trip.

If I am ever a professor one day, I would love to get into the classroom, I would love to teach classes where we can experience history at a historical site. I am taking a class next semester where it is being taught at the NY capitol building. I am really excited about that because that is one of my favorite historical sites. So I will definitely miss being able to go to a different place each week and being able to travel, I will miss that.

I am going to miss being in the Barrett lounge, just hanging out with the people i have been able to meet, going to Late Night and having deep intellectual conversations over coffee and chicky nug nugs, and being able to go to CW each week in costume, going down DOG street from the 18th century and back, there’s a lot of nostalgia things that I will miss at W&M.

And with that, as I have been trying to recount on those memories before I leave, I have been trying  keep proper documentation and tie things up before I leave, I have been trying to leave things in a way where I keep in touch with the community. With that I want to take my experience here and use it as an opportunity. I am hoping with the ways I have been able to get involved in museums or history, I can get involved with the historical society or with museums.

I have been looking at my local towns recently and there are a lot of local historical sites that might be demolished, with Revolutionary and Civil War history attached to it. It has never been looked at as a museum, but opportunities that my local communities can take more advantage of the local history that it has. I would love to take a closer look at even the history of my own college campus, looking at the local area. I feel like I have learned a lot of tools here and I would like to be that fresh set of eyes, to work with other historians to try and make those things possible.

I would also like to go back to my friends in good old New York with a different sense of having these big ideas and taking a bit more pride in having those conversations, thinking about different academic topics and current issues, and taking the supportive atmosphere of W&M this hype and keep it going. I am looking forward to those opportunities. I am really looking forward to seeing my family again. I miss them a lot. I haven’t seen them since my mom and my brother left helping me move in. I look forward to seeing my family again, and I am looking forward to all of that, visiting museums, and analyzing them/evaluating them in a different way.

I am looking forward to seeing where my friends, especially some of the very ambitious ones, they end up. Because I like being part of that story. They have all been part of mine. I am excited for that. And I am still trying to get over that FOMO of the last couple of weeks, because there is a lot to look forward to.

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