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Maurice Isserman
Maurice Isserman

Isserman Shares History of Hamilton College

Posted February 15, 2010
Tags Bicentennial History Maurice Isserman
“Hamilton College was a conservative institution, resistant to change, whose fate was one of reform and change,” said Maurice Isserman, the James L. Ferguson Professor of History, as he presented a brief overview of Hamilton in the 19th and early 20th century. Speaking to a full house at the Clinton Historical Society on Feb. 14, Isserman noted that during his research process he spent many hours in the college archives and was surprised by the steady flow of alumni who visited while conducting their own research. The absence of student visitors has prompted him to plan a teaching seminar on college history in the archives to encourage them to visit with greater frequency.

Isserman described how the College’s curriculum evolved from one “built around the classics – Latin and Greek primarily” to one that included the study of chemistry, geography and social sciences among other subjects, a process that took more than a century. Not until 1912 did Hamilton drop the requirement that entering students know Latin.

As he researched the college’s 200-year history, Isserman uncovered stories about the student body that ranged from charming to evocative and sometimes appalling. Students in the 1800s took their meals in the village, sometimes sledding down the hill to the village at speeds that could reach 50 mph. From the charming to the appalling, Isserman described some of the “class warfare” that students in the freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior classes wrought against each other. Isserman described the ringing of the chapel bells, for both joyous and sad occasions, as evocative moments on campus.

In closing, Isserman noted the ongoing Hamilton community challenge: to balance the relevance of the past with that of the fast-changing world of the present. He has just completed a 110,000 word history of the college since its founding. The volume will be edited and published before the College’s bicentennial celebration

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