Jane Trask ’16 studies Colgate’s past to inform future knowledge, as part of summer research

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Jane Trask's summer research project was titled Colgate Envisioned, studying the university's past in order to inform the future.

Jane Trask’s summer research project was titled “Colgate Envisioned,” studying how the university presented its self-image in the past.

Colgate students are sharing their experiences conducting research with faculty members on campus and in the field. This post is by Jane Trask ’16, a history major from Springfield, Ill.

This summer, I’m researching Colgate’s self-image through its own published materials from 1832–1908. I’ve spent most of my time in the University Archives examining the course catalogues, yearbooks, viewbooks, photographs, prints, and other documents from this period to explore how Colgate has understood itself as a place and presented this understanding to the public.

Today, Colgate’s incredible campus is a significant part of its published self-image. However, I have found that Colgate has not always understood itself in this way.

Before 1890, the year that Madison University became Colgate University, images and texts describing the school lacked a sense of connection to the physical environment. For example, prints found in the catalogues from this time do not show the hill, which today is a defining feature of the campus. The university is shown in these early materials as a set of facilities in a generic environment.

In the 1890s, wide, complete views of “the Hill” and detailed texts about the structures and location began to appear, demonstrating that the school was thinking of itself as a “campus” of integrated buildings, grounds, and paths, although it was not yet a Colgate that would be fully recognizable today.

The campus continued to develop over the course of this decade and the next, and by the publication of a 1907 viewbook, the beginnings of the modern Colgate had emerged. These images show the campus resembling a well-groomed park, with polished landscaping, the picturesque lake, and buildings nestled into the Hill.

By the end of my period of study, 1908, Colgate was thinking of and presenting itself as it does today: a special place in which the buildings, grounds, and institution are woven together to create a unique experience.

This project was conducted under Professor Robert McVaugh in the art and art history department. He created the project and advised me throughout, but also allowed me a great deal of freedom. We met weekly to review my findings and discuss the next steps. Sarah Keen, Allyson Smally, and Lisa King in the archives also provided me with daily assistance.

I have concluded my research by compiling a report that discusses each type of material and its contents in regards to Colgate’s campus and self-image in this period. In the future, Professor McVaugh and other researchers will be able to use this report, along with my spreadsheet of notes and sets of images, to find information about these materials and direct their research through them. It is possible that my research will play some role in the preparations for the 2019 Bicentennial as well, but it will primarily be used as a guide for future researchers.

I was first introduced to this type of research in the fall of 2013 when I took Professor McVaugh’s American Campus Architecture course. I was fascinated by the study of the architecture of different campuses around the country, including Colgate’s.

Through this project, I have further learned about how archival research works and how to efficiently collect and organize textual and visual data. A history major and an art history minor, I’m considering going into a career in architecture or architectural history.