Bicentennial Colleges Educate, Enlighten and Entertain

The statue of Alexander Hamilton keeps watch over the Chapel as Bicentennial Kickoff Weekend activities begin.
The statue of Alexander Hamilton keeps watch over the Chapel as Bicentennial Kickoff Weekend activities begin.

Among the Bicentennial Kickoff celebration weekend activities were more than 30 Bicentennial colleges and tours. Besides several dedicated to the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, these lectures and historical tours covered topics ranging from the Archaeology of Hamilton College to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Student writers attended the Colleges throughout the weekend to provide a glimpse of the range of topics covered.  Following are synopses of a few that took place on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 22 and 23.


The Friendship of Kirkland and Skenandoa -  Bonnie Wertheim '13 

While 52 Hamilton College students may call Skenandoa House their home, not all of Skenandoa’s residents are aware of the history behind the building’s namesake. On Sept. 22, Oneida Indian Nation Educational and Cultural Outreach Director Kandice Watson (Wolf Clan) presented a Bicentennial College on the close ties between Samuel Kirkland and Chief Skenandoa.


The two were “lifelong friends,” said Watson. Kirkland’s influence caused Skenandoa and, in turn, the Oneida Nation to convert to Christianity. Because the Oneidas expressed the desire to become educated beyond the religious realm, Kirkland founded the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in 1793. European-American and Oneida males were able to matriculate at the Academy, which became Hamilton College in 1812.


But the alliance between the Oneidas and the Americans began much earlier, during the Revolutionary War. The Oneidas chose to align themselves with the colonists, breaking away from the Iroquois Confederacy. Skenandoa played a major role in making this decision. The Nation fought in battles such as Oriskany and Saratoga, contributing to the efforts for American independence. However, fighting in Native American villages led to much destruction.


In the Treaty of Canandaigua, which established peace and land boundaries between the United States and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Nations were also promised $4,500 in calico cloth annually as compensation for the losses they suffered during the Revolutionary War. Though the amount of cloth they receive every year has depreciated greatly, the treaty is still honored to this day.


Before his death in 1816, Skenandoa requested to be buried next to Kirkland. He died at the monumental age of 110 and originally had his remains buried beside Kirkland’s. The two were originally buried in the Kirkland’s backyard in Clinton. However, when Kirkland’s gravesite was relocated to Hamilton’s graveyard, Skenandoa’s followed. An excerpt from Skenandoa’s grave inscription reads: “Wise, eloquent and brave, he long swayed the councils of his tribe, whose confidence and affection he eminently enjoyed." A great leader and a key figure in the founding of Hamilton, Skenandoa’s legacy should be remembered as we celebrate the Bicentennial.

Alexander Hamilton: The Education of a Self-Made Man - John Boudreau '14

Although his statue stands tall in front of the Chapel, Alexander Hamilton remains “one of the most elusive” founders, according to Winslow Professor of Classics Carl Rubino. Thousands of pages have been written on Jefferson and Washington, but Hamilton remains relatively ignored—his parentage and birth date are still a subject of scholarly debate.


Rubino discussed Hamilton’s life and education on Sept. 23 as part of the College’s Bicentennial Weekend celebration. Rubino himself is an authority on Hamilton, and even participated in a reenactment of the infamous duel that ended Hamilton’s life in 1804. “It didn’t turn out any different this time around,” Rubino said of the reenactment.


Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis in either 1755 or 1757. His early life was fraught with difficulty, and it is likely he would have died in anonymity had it not been for an account that he wrote in 1772 of a hurricane that ravaged the island of St. Croix. Hamilton’s brilliant writing brought him to the attention of several wealthy American patrons, one of whom paid for Hamilton to travel to Elizabethtown, N.J., where he began his formal education.


Rubino discussed the depth and classical character of Hamilton’s education, emphasizing that “Classics were real and vital to Hamilton.” The authors and statesmen of antiquity fascinated the nation’s founders—so much so that Hamilton adopted classical pseudonyms for his work on the Federalist Papers. Hamilton also used the pseudonym “Tully,” Cicero’s middle name, to evoke the Roman statesman. Rubino thought the comparison apt, as both Cicero and Hamilton were “precocious and brilliantly industrious” men.


Hamilton’s classical background meant that he probably would have approved of the College’s initial curriculum, which included Cicero, Herodotus, and Livy, among others. Although Hamilton never lived to see the College reach maturity, Rubino posits that he could have visited—Hamilton had friends and relatives in the area “so it’s possible he rode to campus to check it out,” Rubino said.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Today - Pat Dunn '12

Christian A. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Global Political Theory Edward Walker '62 and Professor of History Shoshana Keller lectured in the Bicentennial College, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Today, on Friday in Bradford Auditorium.


Keller spoke first, offering an introduction to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it has unfolded since  former President Bill Clinton’s first initiation of peace talks between Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman, Yasser Arafat.


Specifically, Keller addressed the seismic demographic shift and the subsequent thinning of political power that has characterized the Israeli political arena in the last 20 years. “All politics is local,” Keller stressed, detailing the nature and severity of the inner pressures faced by Israeli politicians and served by several interests groups—Hamas, recent soviet Jewish immigrants, and the ultra-orthodox Haredi sect—that have recently become forces wielding serious political weight. The governing powers in Israel, Keller explained, are not only focused on foreign diplomacy and international relations, but also have to worry about appealing to Israel’s various and diverse constituencies.


Walker discussed the state of the Israeli-Palestinian relations as they stand today. Palestine, on Friday, submitted a bid for statehood to the United Nations, lighting a new fire under a debate that has been raging for decades that pits the United States, in its backing of Israel, in disagreement with every other powerful force in the world. The main opposition, explained Walker, facing Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority Abu Mazen is complacency—Palestinians domestically are weary of unrest, foreign powerhouse governments are distracted by pressing domestic and economic problems, and international media outlets have tired of the lack of an evolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Facing disinterest from the Obama administration, Walker suspects that Abu Mazen’s goal is to appeal to the European Union for support in his fight for statehood, keeping the question alive and prescient as the United States prepares for a possible change in administration.


Learning to Look: Hamilton’s Cabinets, Galleries and Museums, Past, Present and Future - Bonnie Wertheim '13

At The Emerson Gallery, Barsha Baral ’13, Associate Professor of Russian Frank Sciacca and Associate Director and Curator Susanna White have traced the history of on-campus museums and galleries—a history not well-known. Their research has culminated in an exhibit at the Emerson Gallery called Learning to Look: Hamilton’s Cabinets, Galleries and Museums Past, Present and Future. On Sept. 23, Baral, Sciacca and White gave a tour of the exhibit.


The earliest of Hamilton’s collections was known as the Cabinet, located in Buttrick Hall. “Cabinets” were small, square rooms intended for collection rather than exhibition. The building developed into the Knox Hall of Natural History as the College acquired more items to fill the Cabinet, such as the Oren Root Mineral Collection. In Emerson’s West Gallery, some objects from Root’s “cabinet” can be found, such as a piece of kimberlite. Root was the first person to note the existence of this volcanic rock in New York State. Other outstanding items in the West Gallery include an unidentified mummy head and pages from Henry Parker Sartwell’s herbarium.


While the West Gallery deals mostly with the scientific, the North Gallery showcases the history of art exhibition at Hamilton. Upon entry, viewers will notice portraits of various men hung on the wall in an arrangement that is, to most modern viewers, not aesthetically appealing. This is known as the “galleria” or “salon” style of hanging, used in the galleries of 18th- and 19th-century Europe, by which paintings are displayed from floor to ceiling very close to one another. A photo beside the portraits shows that the exact paintings were displayed in the same fashion when the Memorial Hall and Art Gallery (1873-1914) existed in Perry Hiram Smith Library Hall, now Minor Theater. The Gallery contained landscapes paintings, portraits and some photography, with the objective of fostering “enlightenment through art,” said White.


Before the opening of the Emerson Gallery in Christian Johnson Hall in 1982, the Edward W. Root Art Center (1958-1982) was a major center for art and culture on campus. One of the most noteworthy artists to have his work displayed at Root Art Center was Edward Hopper.


“Right around this time next year, we’ll be opening up a new interdisciplinary museum on campus,” said White. At the end of the tour, the plans for the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art are displayed. Among its impressive features are two stories of glass display cases, a lecture room and various study spaces. Students and faculty of all departments eagerly await the opening of the new museum.

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