Emerson Gallery Time Capsule to Represent Current Life on the Hill

In September a time capsule from 1871 was opened at the Emerson Gallery.
In September a time capsule from 1871 was opened at the Emerson Gallery.

The Hamilton College Bicentennial has encouraged the study of what the Hamilton experience has been over the past 200 years. This kind of retrospective creates a feeling of self-awareness: we know that one day we will be similarly studied, and we must think about who we are and how we want to be remembered. The 2012 time capsule, to be sealed at the Bicentennial closing in June and opened for the Tercentenary in 2112, gives us an opportunity to convey these messages about ourselves to the future Hamilton community.


The 2012 time capsule expands the idea of the capsule. “It’s all classes, all the people who are here—staff, faculty, people in the village,” said Emerson Gallery Associate Director and Curator Susanna White. “We have a sticker from the Cider Mill,” she noted. White, along with Associate Professor of Russian Franklin Sciacca, has organized the current exhibit on time capsules and now oversees the beginnings of the 2012 capsule.

Previous time capsules buried on the Hill, including the 1871 time capsule unearthed this past September, were created by individual classes. These students expected a member of their class to dig up the time capsule for their 50th anniversary, but some classes evidently forgot these plans. The 1871 time capsule and its contents are on display in the Emerson Gallery along with several unopened boxes belonging to other class years of the late 19th century, in an exhibit called Time Capsules and Cornerstones: 200 years of Collective Memory at Hamilton.


Alongside these excavated capsules sits the 2012 time capsule. Artifacts of current Hamilton College life already surround the sturdy metal box. T-shirts, flyers, and issues of The Daily Bull abound, but unique items have also appeared, like a small jar of blue face paint intended for use before this year’s Citrus Bowl. This jar is one of many planted around campus by students seeking a novel way to involve students in the annual hockey game.

“We’ve been encouraging people to bring things that wouldn’t otherwise be in the archives,” said White. Items like student newspapers and course catalogues may be collected elsewhere, but flyers for parties don’t have an obvious home for safekeeping or display. White pointed out a Humans vs. Zombies flyer for the 2012 time capsule and asked if anyone in the future would readily understand that. “The fun things are those one-offs,” she declared.

The exhibit in the Emerson Gallery includes some of these unique items. A flyer for a 19th century event appears with two printing blocks, one for the large image on the front of the booklet and one for a tiny image of an outhouse inside the booklet. “That’s the only one in the world that exists,” White pointed out.

Members of the Hamilton College community are welcome to place items by the capsule in the Gallery, write ideas in the book by the capsule or suggest them via online form. A 2012 time capsule committee, which will be formed next semester, will choose items from these suggestions. Despite limited space, each person who wants to contribute will be able to do so. The book of suggestions as well as a hard copy of the online list of suggestions will be included in the 2012 time capsule. Many voices will help to create the message sent to the Hamilton Tercentenary in 2112.

Ideas for the capsule’s contents have been both humorous and somber. Claire Gavin ’13 proposed an iconic Hamilton fashion piece: the L.L. Bean Boot. “It always fascinates me how almost everyone in every class has the exact same pair of boots,” Gavin said. The boot would certainly draw from more than one class year. She continued, “I’m sure the future Hamilton students would have a good laugh at our fashion sense.”

One suggestion that has already reached the capsule presentation is an item to represent the effects of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. A program from the 2011 memorial sits among other noteworthy paper items. Although the piece commemorates an event over a decade before the 2012 time capsule will be committed to the archives, the events of September 11th occupy an important place in the 2011 Hamilton community’s collective consciousness and will thus be represented.

Students, staff, faculty and alumni are encouraged to submit ideas and items themselves. Forms for submission and lists of previously submitted ideas can be found on the Hamilton website:


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