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An Historian for Trumbull College at Yale University

Residential college histories constitute a small but distinct genre of literature, one that should appeal not only to college members but also to the wider academic public.

Every residential college should have its own historian, and Josh Duboff reports in today’s Yale Daily News that Trumbull College at Yale University has now found one for itself:

Junior Looks Into Trumbull’s Past

For Carly Rothman ’06, an ardent curiosity about her surroundings and predecessors at Yale has come to shape her college experience.

“I would sit in my dorm room and think, ‘Who lived in this room before us?’” Rothman said. “I would think, ‘Who were the very first people to live in this room and what are they doing now?’”

Rothman has turned her passion for the past into an actual job, creating for herself the position of Trumbull College historian, which she has held since the beginning of the academic year. As the only residential college historian on campus, Rothman works between five and 10 hours per week and is employed through the Trumbull Master’s Office.

Rothman said she has three main keywords she uses to focus her efforts as college historian: study, preserve and present.

As part of the academic and research-based side of her job, she studies old copies of the Yale Daily News and browses books in the archives of the Trumbull library.

“I’m a huge nerd,” she said. “I love microfilm.”

Rothman also works to organize and preserve books in the Trumbull library—fondly known as the “Trumbrary”—as the college prepares for its renovation to begin this summer. But the real thrill of the job, she said, comes from the opportunities she has to organize and present exhibits and events of her choosing.

Her first event was a birthday celebration exhibit coinciding with Trumbull’s birthday in September. Rothman found old photos of the Trumbull dining hall, along with other artifacts pertaining to life at the college, which she included in the exhibit. She also uncovered the menu from the first meal ever served in the dining hall on Sept. 25, 1934, which the dining staff recreated and served for the celebration last fall.

For her next big exhibit, which was presented on Feb. 9, Rothman focused on Trumbull’s key role in the fight for coeducation at Yale. Titled after Trumbull’s college chant, “Moorah,” the exhibit was the result of information garnered from numerous phone interviews with alumni.

“I think sharing these stories enriches the concept of community and helps us to remember the alumni who came before us,” Rothman said. “Some of our alumni are doing incredible things.”

In the movement for coeducation at Yale, Trumbull students played an especially integral role. Aviam Soifer ’69, who came back to speak at a Master’s Tea coinciding with last week’s exhibit, spearheaded the student activism for coeducation when he was a Trumbull senior. In fact, the initial plans for coeducation were to make Trumbull a college exclusively housing women.

Rothman said that bringing past events to the forefront emphasizes how much Yalies may take for granted.

“Less than 50 years ago, women couldn’t go here,” she said. “It was so moving to hear these stories from women who were here those first couple of years. Things were just so different. There were no women’s bathrooms anywhere.”

Rothman said she has received support from Trumbull’s master and dean. She also has found Trumbull alumni to be excited by her new position as college historian.

“It’s not often students call alumni wanting to know about their experiences at Yale,” she said.

William Massa, a Trumbull fellow and an archivist at Sterling Memorial Library, has been working closely with Rothman and said he is impressed with her hard work and drive.

“She is very enthusiastic and dedicated,” Massa said. “She clearly has this keen interest in Trumbull history. She has just done a tremendous job.”

Massa said he hopes Rothman will continue to study and present aspects of Trumbull’s history next year when the Trumbull students are living in Swing Space during the renovation.

Rothman said she hopes to install college historian positions in the other residential colleges, a priority Massa said is important to building a community atmosphere at Yale.

“I think it’s really useful for students to know the history of their residential colleges,” Massa said. “It gives students a greater sense of what it means to belong to a college and how the alumni feel about it.”

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