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The Scarlet & Black

New series History at Lunch shines light on Grinnell’s past


By Conner Stanfield

Grinnell College’s History at Lunch series continued this week with Professor Emeritus Daniel Kaiser, history, giving a talk entitled “Before the Zone of Confluence: Some Town-Gown Moments.” All kinds of Grinnellians were in attendance, from students to professors and toddlers to the elderly, all eager to learn more about Grinnell’s history, not to mention enjoy the desserts and drinks.

Kaiser’s talk focused on three moments in Grinnell’s history: the creation of a botanic garden and the later development of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on that land, the building of a foundry and the College welcoming Japanese-American students during World War II. Through each of these events, he spoke on the interdependence of the town and the College and said that, though both have changed over time, they have not necessarily changed in sync with one another.

Kaiser also runs a blog chronicling Grinnell’s history called Grinnell Stories. Entries on the blog range from “Tornado!” about the 1882 cyclone that devastated Grinnell, to “Alone Among the Gentiles,” which tells the story about Grinnell’s first Jewish resident, Daniel Berman.

Kaiser explained the importance of studying Grinnell history. “We understand better our own jobs and we understand better the institution’s vector of moving forward when we know something about where it’s been,” he said.

He said that one of the main focuses of his blog is to “add to the narrative those voices that had been omitted.” His talk, in particular his discussion of Japanese-American students at Grinnell during World War II, echoed that sentiment. Regarding the inclusion of Japanese-American students, he said he considers the decision is “one of the moments in the College’s history [of which] I’m most proud.”

The History at Lunch series is new to the College. The series began on Jan. 16 with a talk from George Drake ’56, Professor Emeritus of history and President Emeritus. He described his talk as an outline of College history with a particular focus on “the way that religion changed at Grinnell.” Drake said that studying history is important because “it gives a little more depth to our understanding of ourselves.”

Mark Watts, HR Training and Student Employment Coordinator, organizes the History at Lunch series. He said that at each new employee orientation, Drake talks to the new employees about the history of Grinnell and the way it shapes the town’s present. According to Watts, after each of these sessions, new employees are left wanting to learn more. The series was created so that new and old Grinnellians alike can continue to learn more about the College’s and the town’s history.

“It just gives us more of that common ground,” Watts said.

The series will continue on Wednesday, March 13, with Don Smith, Professor Emeritus of history, discussing “College Culture.”

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