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Treasures in the College Archives
St. Olaf is considered to be one of the most haunted college campuses in the United States. The college’s archives department routinely gets calls from television shows and other requests for information. In addition to spooky tales, there are many interesting and rarely talked about stories and objects detailing the extensive history of St. Olaf.
In the days of old at St. Olaf, when people like Mohn and Kittlesby were walking around, there was an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Professor Ytterboe decided that the contagion was in the men’s bathroom in the basement of his namesake dormitory. To get rid of the cause of the disease and protect his students, the concerned professor decided to burn chemicals in the bathrooms. He did this for around ten weeks in the fall of 1903.
Unfortunately, while burning the chemicals, he did not open the windows or leave the room. Professor Ytterboe died a few months later, in February of 1904, as a result of formaldehyde poisoning. The man who had been beloved by St. Olaf faculty and students died on campus with his nervous system severely compromised.
In the early days of the College, many families lived on campus. These were the families of faculty. In fact, many families started at St. Olaf; around half a dozen babies were actually born in Old Main.
Some college practices have, thankfully, come to an end. According to an alumnus’ diary, in the early 1900s, female students had to be in their dorms by 10:00 p.m. and have their lights out by 10:45 p.m. In addition, if a gentleman wanted to take one of the ladies out to spend some quality alone time with her, he would have to meet with her “housemother” first. These processes gradually ended.
Some St. Olaf traditions have come to an abrupt halt in more dramatic ways than others. The Homecoming Court was discontinued at St. Olaf when a few disgruntled students entered a large female farm pig in the race for Homecoming Queen. “Alice Swineson” became homecoming queen in 1969.
However, Swineson did not get to wear the queen’s crown and it was donated to the college archives in 1972. Several students have had the opportunity to try on the ornate crown.
“If students come down with a little bit of notice, I am always happy to show them our treasures,” said Jeff Sauve, college archivist.
Sauve is caretaker to this treasure trove of college history. The college archive includes roughly 2,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 5,000 photographs, 700 videos, 1,000 audio recordings and one silver crown.
Two coins dating back to the time of the Roman Empire are among the rarest items in the archives.
“We have one coin dating to around the time Of Jesus’ birth and one dating to the end of the empire,” Sauve said.
These objects were a surprise find in papers given to the St. Olaf archives by an alumnus who was an art collector. Alumni have bequeathed most documents in the archives. This ensures that there are always interesting items such as 80-year-old locks of hair – and even teeth – in the basement of Rolvaag Library.
Along with collecting and assessing historical documents, the archivist’s duties include undertaking projects to preserve the history of the College.
Coming out this summer is a “Sight Story Mobile Historical App,” a virtual tour of historical – and present day – St. Olaf College. Included will be 28 sights with a plethora of information.
The information includes, but is not limited to, audio clips, pictures, biographies, video clips and tours. This was made possible with a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Collection. The goal of the project is, “to make new information available and dig into the story of St. Olaf.”
Nina McConigley ’97 transferred to St. Olaf in the fall of 1994 at the beginning of her sophomore year. She sat in the back of an English classroom in Rolvaag and listened to a professor read poetry; she knew she was in the right place.
Twenty years later, on Thursday, April 9, McConigley addressed a crowd of students, English professors and fans in the same room she remembered from all those years ago.
McConigley, who now teaches in the English department at the University of Wyoming, only took one creative writing course as an English major at St. Olaf – during the second semester of her senior year. After she graduated, she worked in the insurance business for a year. She hated it, and decided to give writing a try. McConigley went on to earn her MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston and then her MA in English from the University of Wyoming.
McConigley returned to St. Olaf to read from her acclaimed collection of short stories Cowboys and East Indians. Though the stories are works of fiction, they reflect experiences that the author and her family encountered as what McConigley calls “the wrong kind of Indian” in rural Wyoming. With an Indian mother and an Irish father, McConigley was different from those around her in their tiny oil-and-gas Wyoming town.
“There’s just no other Indians,” she said. “There’s not an Indian restaurant in the entire state of Wyoming.” McConigley read aloud from the first story in the Cowboys and East Indians collection, “Pomp and Circumstances.” The story described a masculine, elk-hunting Wyoming man who shares a personal secret with his employee’s wife, an Indian woman. McConigley joked that nothing much “happens” in her stories, but that they explore the perspectives and identities of characters as they experience life.
“Stories are a really great way to try out different lenses – different points of view,” she said. “Your writing is your witness to what you’re experiencing.” Other stories in the collection feature characters – of different ages and genders and backgrounds – in both the United States and India as they explore questions of identity that have always fascinated McConigley.
“I’m always thinking about my identity,” she said. She talked about traveling to India when she was 23, standing on the street and realizing that, for the first time, she was not in the minority. Even so, she felt like an American in India; she did not necessarily belong.
“I found it really hard,” she said. “I was really confused, and then I hated myself for feeling confused.” This confusion, though, prompted more questions about identity and authenticity not only in her own life, but in everyday experiences of all people. She cited the online self as a universal example.
“I’m a total hermit, but on Facebook I look like the most outgoing, fun-loving person ever,” she said. “I don’t even know what’s authentic about anything – at all. I love that feeling.”
Audience members asked McConigley lots of questions about her journey as a writer, and the author’s responses were thoughtful and frank. She discussed the ways in which creative writing has been an opportunity for her to experience the world.
“[Writing] is a kind of therapy, actually, for me,” she said. “There is a lot of truth. . . but in my stories I can make my characters sassier and braver.”
For all of her discussion of identity, authenticity, and the writing experience, McConigley never came across as lofty or pretentious. Rather, she was funny and friendly and simply a joy to listen to.
“I really am well-adjusted,” she said, to laughs.
Cowboys and East Indians won the 2014 PEN Open Book Award and the High Plains Book Award, and was named on Oprah’s list of award-winning books. Because the collection was published by a small publisher and then received such critical acclaim, the book is essentially out of print at present. However, interested readers can find a copy in Rolvaag Library.
The St. Olaf softball team took on Bethel University on April 11 in a doubleheader on Mabel Shirley Field. The Oles got off to a flying start capturing the first game 3-2, but they were unable to keep the momentum as the Royals cruised to a 10-1 victory in game two.
The Oles began the game in spectacular fashion, scoring twice in the first inning. The Royals responded with a game-tying run in the fourth inning, leaving the game in a delicate balance. The battle was poised evenly right through until the seventh inning. Jessica Bentley ’18 starred for St. Olaf, hitting an RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, which allowed Becca Walz ’16 to score. Danielle Collins ’15 pitched all seven innings for the Oles, recording one strike-out along the way.
Despite claiming victory in game one, St. Olaf was unable to stop a Bethel onslaught in game two, as the Royals raced to a comprehensive 10-1 win.
The Oles were led by Afton Wolter ’16 , who batted in Alex Lopez ’18 in the second inning to put the Oles on the board. Nothing could stop the Royals though, as they out-hit the Oles 14-5 on their way to victory.
The Oles also competed in doubleheaders on April 12 and April 14, against Gustavus Adolphus College and Augsburg College respectively. Despite falling 0-5 and 1-5 to the Gusties, the Oles bounced back to record resounding 7-3 and 6-4 wins over the Auggies. St. Olaf currently sits at 11-21 overall, with a 6-8 conference record, good enough for eighth position in the MIAC. St. Olaf, who has several games in the coming week, will play at home for the last time on April 22 against University of St. Thomas.
Photo Credit: ABBY DAVIS/MANITOU MESSENGER
On Saturday, April 11, St. Olaf’s Model United Nations Club put on a World War I simulation, where attendees represented different factions involved in the conflict, specifically in the time immediately following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The simulation was designed to actively engage students in the study of history and government by allowing them to take a direct role in the conflict and make choices that directly influenced the course of the simulation.
The Model United Nations Club is a student-run organization that seeks to enrich the study of social science through the simulation of real-life government and political dynamics.
“It allows you to work with real-world issues in a much more hands-on way than you would in a class or through independent study,” Alex Luna ’18 said.
The group occasionally competes in larger Model United Nations conventions, including an annual conference in Chicago. Members of the group meet every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., and are open to any interested students who wish to try their hands at political negotiation.
This most recent simulation placed participants in the roles of specific cabinets of government, including ministers of the interior, war, economy and foreign relations. Each of these positions came with its own powers, outlined on a sheet of paper. These were unique to each player and contained information about specific positions and countries.
Due to the size of the simulation, three countries – Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia – were controlled by four active participants, with the remaining countries simulated by administrators. Many actions required the approval of all four cabinet members, but other actions could be enacted by individuals alone. These powers allowed for complex decision-making among team members creating the possibility of conflict and in-fighting among factions. This system also gave a certain degree of power to each participant, so that no one was left powerless.
The experience was structured so that the different groups were placed in their own rooms, emphasizing a certain separation where deliberation was mostly isolated from the other groups. Important declarations were shared, through Google Docs, to the other groups, but most were kept secret, unless shared in face-to-face interactions with a representative from another country. Essentially, players were left somewhat to their own devices, being fed information that was either particularly pertinent or directly requested regarding the social context of the conflict, but mostly ignorant of what was happening outside of their own assigned countries. This added a sense of gravity to the decision-making process, and made the consequences of these decisions unpredictable.
The simulation heavily emphasized historical realism, and all participants were offered a fair amount of context regarding the dynamics of the conflict. Members of each country had objectives both to protect themselves and to maintain national peace, and the simulation was framed so as to make war likely but not inevitable.
The choices offered in the simulation truly did hold weight. Not only was their the possibility that war could be prevented, but also almost all aspects had the capacity to follow a different path from that of history. Despite this potential, the simulation offered a perspective to history that made it fairly clear how WWI began. Despite participants’ efforts to end diplomatically, the objectives offered for each country made it very difficult to avoid war, something that ultimately appeared necessary.
Ultimately, simulation participants were able to prevent a full-blown world war. There was still conflict in central and eastern Europe, but major world powers, like the United Kingdom, were kept out of the war and prevented escalation.
The simulation, despite its relatively basic structure in regard to actual government, served to offer a realistic depiction of history. This engagement was not only a learning opportunity, but also was a fun and exciting opportunity to interact with other students and to learn about an event in history that still resonates today. This type of simulation can be applied to any event in history, allowing for the accommodation of a variety of students interests in regard to politics and government.
The simulation was more or less a game that required the use of skills that apply to many fields of study offered at St. Olaf. Students were encouraged to talk clearly and effectively, and put into consideration the ultimate benefit of their country while working with a group of likeminded peers.
Beyond everything else, this simulation was a very enjoyable experience where participants were given an opportunity to test their wits while working through history to a common goal.
Carleton College will observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a vigil and service on Sunday, April 19 in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. Author Peter Grose will be the featured speaker and Carleton associate chaplain Rabbi Shosh Dworsky will lead the service, which begins at 5 p.m. A vigil/name reading of Holocaust victims will precede the service, beginning at 12:30 p.m. For a detailed schedule of the event, visit go.carleton.edu/calendar. This event is free and open to the public.
Founder of ‘TheMuslimGuy.Com,’ Arsalan Iftikhar will present Carleton College’s weekly convocation on Friday, April 17 from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. An international human rights lawyer, global media commentator, and author of the book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era, Iftikhar has been called Islam’s “It” guy by many in the global media and is a much sought-after interview or commentator for those seeking the American-Muslim perspective. NPR host Michel Martin calls Iftikhar “…the voice of a new era: hip, funny, smart and globally aware” and New York best-selling author Deepak Chopra wrote, “The world needs more Muslim Ghandi’s like Arsalan Iftikhar.”
Becky Morrison, a proponent of collecting and refurbishing electronic waste and converting it into usable instruments around the globe, will present Carleton College’s weekly convocation on Friday, April 10th from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. Entitled “ Revolutionary Ideas: How to Achieve the Impossible,” Morrison’s presentation is free and open to the public. Carleton convocations are also recorded and archived online at go.carleton.edu/convo.
World renowned classical and jazz pianist Jon Nakamatsu will perform in concert on Sunday, April 12 at 3 p.m. in the Carleton College Concert Hall. A Van Cliburn gold medalist, Nakamatsu is considered to be one of the most sough-after pianists of his generation. Bernard Holland of the New York Times wrote, "This young American pianist has stunning technical control and can do anything at the piano he wants." Nakamatsu’s not-to-be-missed performance will feature selections by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Chopin—and is free and open to the public.
Spring term exhibit opens Friday, April 3 and on display through May 3 in Weitz Center for Creativity.
Thursday, April 2, from 5 to 6 p.m., University of Amsterdam history professor Dienke Hondius will present “Mapping Urban European Histories of Slavery” at Carleton College in Leighton Hall Room 304.
Friday, April 3, Carleton's convocation series returns with a special presentation by Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Ysaye Maria Barnwell. From 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel, Barnwell will present “Building Vocal Communities,” a lecture that traces the evolution of African American communal vocal music from Africa through Spirituals and work songs to the music of the Civil Rights Movement. And later that evening at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall, Dr. Barnwell will conduct a Community Sing, bringing together voices of all ages from across the campus and greater communities. Both events are free and open the public. Convocations are also recorded and archived online at go.carleton.edu/convo/.
Dr. Carolyn H. Livingston, currently senior associate vice president for campus life and Title IX coordinator for students at Emory University (Ga.), has been named Carleton College’s new vice president for student life and dean of students. Livingston replaces Hudlin Wagner, who announced her retirement in September, effective at the end of the current academic year. Livingston will assume her new post June 22, 2015.