Friday, May 21, 2021

Fiasco at Fredericksburg

First page of Sargent's letter to Maria, 17 Dec 1862This week we had the opportunity to visit a local 5th-grade classroom via Zoom to talk with them about the American Civil War. The students looked at and analyzed an image from Gardner's Sketch Book of the Civil War, read a military map that provided information about Corinth, Mississippi, and interpreted a personal letter written by a Union soldier, Ransom F. Sargent, to his wife Maria.

Sargent was a Fife Major of the 11th New Hampshire regiment, Company F, and was in his mid-twenties when he joined the army. His letters home to Maria are a wonderful firsthand account of several important battles that Sargent witnessed, including the disastrous Battle of Fredricksburg, the Siege of Vicksburg, and the Siege of Petersburg. Despite the seriousness of his situation, Sargent also discussed smaller and more personal issues in his letter, including news about other New Hampshire men that he knew and comments about what was going on back in New London, New Hampshire, where Maria awaited his return.

For the 5th-grade class, we both transcribed and provided color scans of a letter he wrote outside Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 17, 1862. In the letter, Sargent reflects on the recent loss by the Union, saying to Maria: "I long to know what the papers say about this battle. Believe me if they call it anything but a terrible slaughter and defeat into the bargain they very much misrepresent the matter. If ever the works behind Fredricksburg are taken it must be done by some strategy. It never can be taken by storm as last Saturday’s battle proves which cost New Hampshire the lives of more brave and true men than the whole of theaccursed South is worth in my opinion."

Soon after the loss at Fredricksburg, Burnside was relieved of his command by President Abraham Lincoln and replaced by Joseph Hooker. Despite the embarrassment of this demotion, Burnside went on to have a successful political career; was elected to the governorship of Rhode Island after the war and concluded as well as serving as the first president of the National Rifle Association in 1871.

To read more letters by Ransom Sargent to his wife Maria, come to Rauner and ask to see MS-38.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Many Paths for Persistent Protest

What is the legacy of student mobilizing and protests on Dartmouth’s campus? How have the historic student demonstrations for black liberation and equity informed our current campus climate and administrative demands? Dartmouth has a vivid history of student protests. From the disruptive protest of William Shockley’s black inferiority psychometrics speech and the Parkhurst student occupation—both occurring in 1969—to the Dartmouth Review protests of the 1980’s and Occupy Wall Street protests of the 2000’s, Dartmouth’s students have continued to be vocal and consistent in challenging administrative oversight and advocating for the wants and needs of the student body, specifically those that are structurally unprotected and oppressed.

A standout moment in Dartmouth’s history of accountability was the publishing and dissemination of The Redding Report in 1974. Previously reported on in a blogpost by Alexis Reaves ‘20, this report —written by Eileen Cave, Monica Hargrove and Judi Redding—was structurally inspired by and stood as an analysis of the McLane Report, created by administration in 1969 as the first notable administrative push to address and combat racial inequality on Dartmouth’s campus. It was this 1969 report that established the committee on equal opportunity at the end of the civil rights movement; this committee was charged with researching and strategically executing provisions to increase black, native and local low-income student admission rates, increase faculty diversity and address the specific cultural needs of minority students on Dartmouth’s campus.

The notable publication of The Redding Report by three black, female students in 1974—a mere two years after women were allowed admission into Dartmouth College—served as a distinctive and divergent form of student protest that placed the student voice in direct conversation with administrative decision-making. Co-opting the committee report structure to exemplify the black student’s voice subverted the exclusion and secrecy of administrative action and set a precedent for student protest mobilizing. The Redding Report was reproduced and disseminated by the Afro-American Society, along with other allied organizations like the Interracial Student Group, to reach and inform the members of the student body and administration; this literature distribution protested notions of exclusion and put the experiences and voices of black and native students at the forefront for the student body to consume and reckon with internally. The Redding Report signified an instrumental point in Dartmouth’s legacy where the standard for accountability extended beyond self-imposed regulation and promises to the equipment of media and published discourse in influencing systemic change.

A visual indicator of this report generating shifting notions of protesting strategy are seen in the two differing styles of The Redding Report. The first and original formatting, in the typical report fashion, utilized a typewritten, 21-page essay form that from its beginning to end, detailed the shortcomings of McLane Report’s implementation, common campus-wide discrimination practices and proposed solutions to combatting institutional inequity; this is the style found in the President’s Records (Call Number DP-13) as means of emulating and communicating within in the conventional format of the administrative office in pushing for accountabilty.

The second format of the Redding Report was the style used in information dissemination by allied student groups; this form which is found in the Dean’s records (Call Number DA-8) takes on a more informal and accessible design, being dispersed more like a newspaper than the traditionally dense report to aid in its ease of consumption by student and community members. In a novel student protesting methodology, immense consideration was taken into the duality of information diffusion for the two differing yet intended readers of this exposition. The first being the administration, wielding the power and resources to conduct change and the second being the student body, the guiding force to advocate for and realize needed institutional transformation as the direct benefactors of administrative policy. Taking it upon themselves, the student authors of The Redding Report and the groups tasked with uplifting and dispersing documentation of the non-white student experience at Dartmouth, uniquely protested against Dartmouth administration’s stagnancy while highlighting the broken promises and standardized strategies used to push aside and neglect anti-racist policy implementation.

Posted for Kiara Cannon '22, recipient of Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowshipfor the 2021 Spring term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website.