Searching for an Angle

The biggest challenge for researching the land use history of Goodwin College’s River Campus is finding an interesting angle that would appeal to a broader audience than just the five or six people from the non-profit that contracted the assignment. Of course, the easiest thing to do is to research the records at the town hall and explain the chronology of how the land changed over time. Steve Armstrong, my supervisor for this internship, says that this is just not enough and I agree. We want to make this into a project that may have a possibility to be published. In order to do this, the interpretation of the campus’s history must be applicable to a wider historical context. This is the biggest roadblock to the research.

To begin this project, I acquired a map of the colleges holdings along the CT River. As you can see from this image, the Goodwin College campus is nestled along the Connecticut, which in itself is experiencing a resurgence in contemporary and historical interest. The map shows all of the land in East Hartford, Glastonbury, and Wethersfield that the college has acquired. My early research of the land use of this property indicates that most of the land was flood plains and meadows, with little economic development and limited written historical record. Some information I have uncovered from interviews of town historians and municipal bureaucrats shows that the most important development on the land is the introduction of coal depots and later home heating oil distribution centers in the 20th century. The land that the college and its myriad of magnet schools sits on is considered a brownfield because of all of the contamination from years of abuse and waste.

When I first began to research this project, I though it would be a compelling story to frame as sort of an environmental history. At first, I was thinking that it could be a story of human environment interaction, but my supervisor did not think this was appealing enough. Now, however, I am thinking that the angle might be environmental history. According to the surprisingly well researched and cited entry on Wikipedia, “Environmental historians study how humans both shape their environment and are shaped by it.” Honestly this is very similar to my first instinct with this project, but maybe this is the angle we are looking for. Environmental History took root in the environmentalist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s at the same time that land reclamation began on sites such as the Goodwin College River Campus. Maybe the connection to the broader history IS how people have interacted with the environment. I guess that is the nature of a land use history. The thesis must answer how people have shaped and been shaped by the environment. Is this really an enticing story?

The Search Continues…On to environmental history journals.

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