Final Spring 2020 message

June 1, 2020

Greetings from Middlebury history majors and minors

We hope that you are all well, and that you are enjoying some reprieve from the challenges that the transition to online learning thrusted on you this spring. I wanted to send you a final message to reiterate our promise to you that the history department faculty will continue to do its best to provide you with interesting and compelling courses in the fall, whether they are online or in person. We have learned a great deal this spring as well, and look forward to re-connecting, teaching, and advising you in the fall.

I also wanted to remind you of the unique skills that we as historians are continually developing to understand histories in their proper contexts in good times and during pandemics and crises. At the same time, as humanists studying cultures around the world, we are also constantly learning how to better move in the world with empathy and compassion, the building blocks of transformation. I know that many of you are keeping journals. This will help future historians understand the present moment.

I also wanted to take a moment to reflect on the challenges we are currently facing.

The novel coronavirus has taken the lives of almost 400,000 people worldwide, over 100,000 of them in the United States. Many of you have been displaced as disoriented because of it.  In this country, a disproportionate number of the dead are poor people of color. In the midst of one pandemic, the scourge of racism and white supremacy has continued to negatively impact these very communities. On May 25, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers murdered George Floyd, a 46- year-old black man, as he uttered the same last words as Eric Garner in 2015. These incidents are stark reminders that compassion and empathy look very different for those with privilege than for those who can’t breathe. Similar human rights abuses continue to be perpetrated against people of color around the world from Australia to Brazil. As historians, we know that these acts of anti-black violence are not new. In fact, just this past May 31 and June 1, the U.S. marked the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, arguably one of the worst moments of anti-black racial violence in US history.

The riots across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death have also affected many communities, including some where many of you live. The unprecedented curfews in New York and Los Angeles are another indication of these trying times. As historians, we know that riots are complex events, and that we will need time to fully understand the causes, impacts, and ramifications. This is not to justify mob justice, but to do our best to understand the complexities before we make final judgments.  

These events are distressing for everyone, but again social disruptions affect racialized and poor communities disproportionately. Historical data on people of color and migrants provide copious evidence of this truth in this country and elsewhere. Even at Middlebury, we know that many of us have been just fine, while others have suffered from exhaustion and exposure. We hope that you continue to reach out to one another and to the faculty if you have any questions or thoughts. Please also check the history department blog for many summer ideas (organized by Victoria Albert). We will also add opportunities for service or volunteer up until the end of June. Please let me know if you would like to post something.

Above all, we wanted you to know that we are thinking of all of you.  We hope that all of you are safe and healthy.  I also hope that we can find ways to rebuild sustainable and equitable communities of the future post-pandemic whether you find work in libraries, law firms, businesses, schools, banks, or soup kitchens.

Darién J. Davis, chair

All the best.