Welcome To An Unfinished Story!

Rounds Hall, Plymouth Historical Images, Spinelli Archives

Students in Plymouth State University’s Spring 2012 Public History course planned and designed a “story” tour of the University campus. Public history is a collaborative effort of historians and the public to make the past accessible, relevant and transformative. The students in this course have engaged in primary source and secondary source research, conducted oral history interviews, and explored new technologies. Utilizing the knowledge gained from their course work, they created a web-based tour of the Plymouth State campus that challenges the traditional linear narrative of history.

As early as 1808 efforts were under way in Plymouth to establish a teacher-training institute, but it was not until 1870 that the New Hampshire legislature passed an act calling for the establishment of a “normal school” in Plymouth. Over the years, the name has changed and the student population has grown from eight students to more than 4,000 today. In that time buildings have come and gone, yet their stories and the stories of those who walked the halls, sat in the classes, and relaxed with friends can still be found.[1] The Public History students have uncovered stories, among others, about students in the 1960s organizing the Committee on Reaction Against Mediocrity and in the 1970s enjoying a beer in the Student Union college pub with faculty members. Other students explore campus dormitory life in earlier periods, finding, for example, that college regulations permitted male students to visit the dormitory rooms of females but prohibited the reverse.

1871 Plymouth Normal School Building, Plymouth State Historical Images, Spinelli Archives

Two buildings were the center of academic activity for many years. The Ellen Reed House, formerly known as the Calley House, was the business and administration center of the campus. Here students discussed their academic futures and paid tuition bills. According to one of the school’s chroniclers, it was a “hub of activity.”[2] When new offices were constructed, the house was renamed for Ellen Reed, a teacher during the Normal School’s first years of operation. Had it not been for Reed’s willingness to stay on at the Normal School during the financial challenges of the 1870s, the school may have closed. The second building, Rounds Hall, is the symbolic face of Plymouth State today and has provided classroom space for students since its inception. Its history is rich with stories of innovative instructors, Halloween rituals, and glee club practices.

The Foley Gymnasium is a little further afield. The gymnasium and surrounding sports fields reflect Plymouth State’s efforts to incorporate physical health and education into the academic curriculum. This concept dates back to efforts by early education reformers to create a healthy learning environment. [3]

Several other campus locations had unique connections to the community. The construction of the Silver Center opened the door for expanded college/community partnerships through the arts. The land where Pemigewasset Hall now stands was the location of a hotel that comprised Normal Hall and a local house. More recently, the school purchased and subsequently converted to classrooms an industrial building that once produced baseball gloves for major-league players. One of the sites identified by a student, the veterans’ memorial, has nothing to do with an existing building but, rather, is a significant location dedicated to the many students who have served the country in the military. Following World War II, numerous soldiers took advantage of the GI Bill and attended colleges across the nation. At Plymouth, the increased enrollment of men forced changes in dormitory life.

1905 Plymouth Normal School Postcard, Plymouth State Historical Images, Spinelli Archives

The public history students have examined the links between place and story that the visitor can experience through smartphone technology while walking around campus. As documentary folklorist Thomas Rankin observed, “out of shared telling and remembering grow identity, connection and pride, binding people to a place and to one another. These ties form the basis of Community Life.” [4]

by LUB

[1] For more information on the history of Plymouth State University see: Norton Bagley, One Hundred Years Of Service; A History Of Plymouth State College, Plymouth, New Hampshire (Plymouth: Plymouth State College Alumni Association, 1971), Jim Hogan, Where My Viewpoints Crossed (Plymouth: Clifford-Nicol, 1985), Marcia Schmidt Blaine and Louise Samaha McCormack, Picturing the Past: A Short History of Plymouth State (to be published, 2012)

[2] Hogan, Plymouth, 7

[3] Dr. Rebecca Noel’s research, presented to Public History class on March 8, 2012.

[4] Thomas Rankin, Putting Documentary Work to Work: A Guide for Communities, Artists and Activists (Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, 2001)






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