A People's History of Middlebury College

a history of Middlebury College centered on marginalized voices, social/political mobilizations, and periods of struggle

A People's History of Middlebury College


“If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.”  Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

“As we know from our history books, history is, for the most part, history from above, not from below.” Bob Buckeye, “The Work of Staff at Middlebury College”
A people’s history is defined as a history from below; a history that is centered on marginalized voices and on periods of struggle; a history of the give and take of power. We want to explore the notion that our shared historical narratives matter by historicizing both privilege and protest at Middlebury College.

This project came out of a desire to know our history. That is to say, to learn the history of those at Middlebury College who have resisted; to unearth the stories of those who have made change by pushing the administration, their peers, and themselves to live the liberatory knowledge that is taught in our liberal arts classrooms in beautiful central Vermont.

As Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States, we must study these episodes of struggle from below so that we can “emphasize new possibilities.” We started this project so that we could learn our history so that said history can inform our actions today. We wanted to construct a people’s history of Middlebury College so that current members of the Middlebury community will learn that to be a member of this community does not mean to be a straight-A student, a hard-working staff member, or a good teacher. It also means being an agent of change.

Though the Board of Trustees and the administration have power here, we also have power. Power to challenge those rules that silence us, power to challenge the structures that exploit us or belittle us. There is a history of empowerment from below at this school. We can carry on this legacy. We must carry on this legacy. This is how our administration and trustees will continue to be held accountable to the typically marginalized members of the community, those of us who would otherwise be ignored.

With this project we want to contextualize collective resistance at Middlebury and we also want to acknowledge that for some to simply exist is to resist. While Alexander Twilight did not start an anti-racist organizing campaign while a Middlebury student, the very fact that he was the first Black student at Middlebury expanded the notion of who can or cannot be a Middlebury student and was therefore an act of resistance. Even though Emma Willard did not organize a feminist uprising at Middlebury College, the fact that she spoke her truth to power by challenging the administration herself is resistance as well.

As you peruse this website please keep in mind that all histories are inherently incomplete. This history is informed by extensive research in the College Archives, interviews with current and past members of the Middlebury community, and hours of reviewing back issues of College publications. Still, we know that there are many people with stories to share and many stories that have been lost with time. We also know that for many people the way that we have constructed this history may seem flawed or incomplete. We acknowledge our biases as well as our lack of training as historians. Still, we have learned so much from engaging with this material and present this information even as we know that it is flawed. Hopefully we will be able to start a conversation from here. This is above all else a living document. If you would like to contribute to the history or challenge what we have documented here, please do. This is a link to our Facebook page and this is a link to a comments box that will be sent to us. You can also learn more about how to get involved here.