Must-Take Class: Making Barnard History
This semester, I’m taking a course called “Making Barnard History,” a class focused solely on Barnard’s history as a college. The course is taught by Professor Robert McCaughey, who has been teaching at Barnard since 1969. He has written a book on the history of Columbia, and he is currently working on a book that details the history of Barnard. Professor McCaughey’s decades of experience and research make him a primary source for nearly half of Barnard’s history, which makes our discussions feel like a candid re-telling of life at the college.
Our discussions, along with their story-telling aspect, allow us to make conjectures about the sociological and situational factors that led to certain phenomena. For instance, in the early 1900’s, many students dropped out before their senior year - not because they were transferring or having a difficult time, as we might consider now - but because it was common for women to marry at a young age and subsequently drop out of school in that time period. Additionally, the vast majority of Barnard students came from the New York area at first - not necessarily because they didn’t want to leave home (although that was sometimes the case) - but mostly because the entire college at that time was housed in a brownstone on Madison Avenue without a residence hall.
Each student is focusing on a different aspect of Barnard, and so far, we've discussed Barnard’s founding, its relationship to Columbia, students’ backgrounds, the Board of Trustees, social life, academics, and extracurriculars.
For my own research, I got to explore the Barnard archives and read old yearbooks to gather data on academic and extracurricular offerings. Some things remain the same, like the annual Greek Games, but others were surprising! Did you know that Barnard used to have a banjo club? Or that the middle of campus used to be called "The Jungle?" Or that zoology and philology were such popular subjects? The yearbooks also encapsulate life at Barnard with their inclusion of sarcastic poetry, old photos of campus, funny senior quotes, pages making fun of faculty, class songs, and drawings (see below).
Overall, this course has given me the unique opportunity to research a specific topic - one that I’m obviously passionate about - and to approach it with my own knowledge. With input from Professor McCaughey, access to the Barnard archives, and presentations from each student on their specific area of research, I’ve started to get a full and colorful picture of life at Barnard since its founding. What a unique experience to have right before I graduate!