Class of 2021 First Year Book
Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape
Each of us has many identities: son or daughter, worker, student. These identities locate us in what it means to be human. Place, too, identifies, says to us, You are here. As we like to say at Washington College, it’s hard to separate who we are from where we are.
In just a few months, you will find yourself at Washington College. You’ll encounter new traditions, new names, new friends. But you will find yourself, too, by participating in the legacy of this 235-year-old institution—in rigorous and rewarding classes, in deep and unhurried conversations with friends and teammates.
That first conversation will be about Trace, a beautifully-written and American Book Award-winning nonfiction account of what it means to think of history, race, and memory as a landscape that can be mined for meaning. The author, Lauret Savoy, is a professor of geology and environmental science at Mount Holyoke College. She is a gifted and talented writer. She is the daughter of a former soldier and a nurse. She is, she writes, “a palimpsest, too, a place made over but trying to trace back.”
In Trace, Savoy understands that “sand and stone are Earth’s memory,” and deploys that understanding to see how place inflects memory and history and the construction of race. She asks, “From what do we take our origins? From blood? … From incised memories?” Trace is the result of a wordsmith, an archivist, a cartographer, a questioner who asks the land to reveal what it remembers about who we used to be—all so that we may be more free to remake ourselves now.
To inhabit a place, Savoy writes, “is to be marked by residues of its still unfolding history, a history weighted by tangled ideas of ‘race’ and of the land itself.” Trace will ask you to look through many lenses, to discover the layers of your identity. It will also introduce you to the way Washington College educates men and women of purpose and passion, to citizen leaders who face problems with inspired thinking and moral courage.
Savoy’s book embodies many of those characteristics. In an interview, Dr. Savoy says, “One of the early lessons I learned as a child was that the land didn’t hate, that people did. I sought refuge in wild lands. I also realized that Earth was much older than humans and that its antiquity preceded hate. So deep time became as much a refuge as any place.”
We welcome you to Washington College, a place that is a refuge for thinking and writing, for creating, for exploration and digging, for unearthing and crafting your future, your selves.