Thoughts on Moving, Change, and Asking “Why”

Carla Hay, our British historian and the senior member of Marquette’s department, found time during the move to Sensenbrenner Hall to reflect on the last time the history department changed buildings, from Grandmora Hall (located on the south side of Wisconsin at 13th street, where Cudahy Hall now sits) to Coughlin Hall, built in 1977. Although most members of the department came after the move, we have all been entertained with stories of the decrepit former home of history and the other humanities department.

We are now engaged in a great move, but not for the first time in the memory of at least some members of the History Department.  I don’t recall that the move from Grandmora to Coughlin was as personally challenging (traumatic) as the move from Coughlin to Sensenbrenner—but maybe that reflects the changes in my own acquisitiveness since the late 1970s, when the move to Coughlin occurred—I now have lots more to

Grandmora Hall.

Grandmora Hall.

move.   While some colleagues nostalgically remember Grandmora, my memory is of a dilapidated building with serious infrastructure issues (heating being foremost), [editor’s note: I have also heard stories of rats and the absence of telephones in individual offices.] so I welcomed the move to the new home of the Humanities where, unlike Grandmora, which had no interior halls connecting the four humanities (history, English, theology, and philosophy) there would be shared space and, supposedly an opportunity for community, although that proved less robust than hoped.

It was with great anticipation that the first weekend feasible I moved my decorative items to the brand new Coughlin Hall to personalize my new office.  I painted an old table and chair burnt orange to match the new color scheme of Coughlin and also bordered a print of Queen Elizabeth I in burnt orange.  I spent a Saturday afternoon hanging prints of British figures and scenes, inexpensively (cheaply) framed to decorate my new office and left that afternoon tired, but satisfied at the aesthetic effect of my labor.  When I returned the next Monday. I found most of my handiwork on the floor, many picture frames and glass shattered–just the first indication of a ventilation problem in Coughlin that caused vibrations so serious that offices had to be vacated over the years. I re-hung my pictures and once I got to relocate to an office overlooking the Quadrangle I came to really like History’s location in Coughlin Hall.

I wonder how our move from the Quad to the eastern fringes of the campus will affect the department’s engagement with students and colleagues in other departments, especially the humanities with whom we no longer share a building.  But as the transition from Grandmora to Coughlin represented a quantum improvement in the physical environment in which the History Department functioned, so also the move to Sensenbrenner provides exciting opportunities to engage our students and colleagues.   As a study space, Sensenbrenner provides an opportunity to engage students in a social way not possible, before. And the building also should prove a magnet for programming with other units of the University. So exciting times lie ahead.

On an even more personal note, as I packed my office, I came across a number of items—each of which required a decision whether to keep or toss. The most unexpected find was a promo pack of (four or six) cigarettes with an expiration date of 1989– these were frequently passed out on Wisconsin Avenue as “freebies” to hook students.  The hardest things to throw in the recycling bin were my journals and books—any books—because I truly love books.  A graduate student took my copies of the Journal of British Studies and Albion, but the American Historical  Review was dumpstered along with the Journal of Modern History.

Despite the trauma it inspires, de-accessioning (an interesting term) can be an opportunity to reflect on a life lived.  In my case, on the countless committees and professional associations—seemingly important and time consuming (big time) at the time but on so many different issues (gender equity issues in athletics, the MU women’s studies program, shared governance at MU) the process seemed to be two-steps forward and  one-step (or maybe three) back—and that can be depressing.  At the time I believed these efforts would have more consequence than in fact has proved to be the case.

So the move has been an opportunity, interspersed with trashing and packing, to reflect on my professional, and since they are intertwined, my personal life.  I do have a few regrets: I wish I could have pursued my interest in administration and regret I didn’t publish more, even though publications are also often ephemeral.  My greatest satisfaction:  having lived my entire life in an academic environment.  My mother and I lived with my grandmother during WWII while my father was in the service.  I apparently so frequently asked the question “Why?” that my grandmother contemplated throttling me if I asked “Why” one more time.  I still think “Why?” is the most important question. And I am so grateful that I have spent my life in an environment that encourages us to ask it.

*Courtesy Raynor Memorial Libraries digital collections.

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