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Thursday, May 23, 2024

From the Archives: Springtime at the college

“From the Archives” is an opportunity for various writers to visit the Middlebury Special Collections and write about a different artifact each week. The Special Collections boasts hundreds of thousands of historic items, and through this column we encourage writers to explore not only the college’s history, but also the history of the world around us. 

Considering the vastly different experiences of past Middlebury students, it is surprising to come across photos taken during summer language schools in 1961 that depicted eerily similar habits to those of today’s student body. 

The black and white photographs show students studying, talking and hanging out in Adirondack chairs on the very lawns we do when the weather allows. 

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This photograph showing two students of Middlebury’s Spanish Language School reading, one in braille, was taken by the Middlebury College News Bureau, the Institution's official news office. During the same summer, the Bureau took many similar photos of students in other Language School Programs. Below are photos from the French and Italian Language Schools.

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Although the first and the third photographs depict scenes of scholarly pursuit, the second depicts another distinctly important feature of socialization at Middlebury: spending leisure time outdoors. Once the weather warms, it's not uncommon to see students sprawled out on blankets, sprinkling the deep green lawn below the Chapel. 

Throughout the chilly Vermont winter, we yearn for the days of closing our eyes, reading and talking, enveloped in rays of sunshine. It’s hard not to believe the students in these images must have felt the same way.

The selected photos are merely a few amongst many taken during the summer of 1961 that show students working, discussing and relaxing outdoors. They reveal a tried and true way Middlebury students have always utilized the outdoors to make academic work more enjoyable, and an institutional habit to occupy the greenery that engulfs the buildings littered across campus. 

The photographs make it evident that the massive lawns and easy access to outdoor spaces facilitate an outdoor-centered culture — one which permeates campus even today. The similarities between the habits of Middlebury students 60 years ago and the current student body emphasize the importance for the College and its administration to listen to the students when they ask for what they need. Such a reckoning came about during the Covid-19 pandemic, when students’ ability to flock to the campus’s lawns and greenery became crucial to their mental wellbeing, and when the administration not only noticed this necessity but took action in providing spaces for students to relax.

As we navigate the trials and tribulations of the modern era, students can derive some  comfort from the idea that some good things will hopefully never change.