The University Libraries and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) are pleased to announce the newly established Center for Mason Legacies (CML) at George Mason University. CML will be led by George Oberle (History Librarian and faculty member in the Department of History and Art History), along with two associate directors, Wendi Manuel-Scott (professor of history, integrative studies, women and gender studies, and African and African-American Studies) and Benedict Carton (faculty member in the Department of History and Art History), and an advisory board of CHSS faculty. This joint initiative unifies scholarly research, public history, teaching innovation, and community outreach by engaging student researchers in studying the past and present influences of the university’s namesake. Carton underscores the value of such exploration: “We are uncovering hidden histories of George Mason IV, the legal visionary, family man, and slaveowner. His life and example inform our nation’s founding concepts of liberty, justice, and property. What can we learn about his institution-building, opportunities and limitations, social and commercial networks, and what our Patriot intentionally and unintentionally imparted to America?”
CML is building and curating a significant archive of unique records generated by and about George Mason IV, his family, and their many associates. The historical coverage of this archive will span the period of the Virginia Colony through the Early Republic and Antebellum era to Jim Crow, civil rights, and the establishment of George Mason University. The pool of materials will include archaeological reports (e.g. plotting remnants of field dwellings, burial grounds, etc.); cultural artifacts; oral interviews with possible descendants of enslaved people from Gunston Hall and surrounding plantations in Virginia and Maryland; the collected testimonies of early African-American alumni remembering their experience at Mason and the meaning of their university namesake; and other sources. Building on these historical examinations, CML will look at the present and host events to facilitate critical conversations about freedom, slavery, and race in America and how we reckon with our past.
George Oberle, CML director, is enthusiastic about the prospects of engaging more university students in archival-based research and the center’s efforts in guiding and supporting historical and cultural documentation. He observes, “I love the work the center is exploring because it shows great potential to sustain years of student-driven research. Our initial experience with the Enslaved Children of George Mason (ECGM) pilot project led by Professor Manuel-Scott shows that undergraduates are excited to uncover and present histories with immediate meaning to wider audiences on campus and in communities beyond. We have not and are not defining topics. On the contrary, students are developing their interests and, in the process, broadening critical-thinking skills, for example, by conducting fieldwork in local archives. Their initiative promises to enhance the understanding of our university’s diverse, complicated, and still-unknown story.”
Wendi Manuel-Scott, who is also affiliated with the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, is deeply committed to scholar-community partnerships. She views the new center as a means of engaging student researchers in a critical dimension of university outreach, which seeks to connect and enrich the knowledge of wider worlds. “When pursuing public history such as the Enslaved Children of George Mason research,” she reminds us, “it becomes our institutional responsibility as a public university to engage with as many people as possible on and beyond the campus. Our student-faculty-administrative research has influenced not only Mason but also those around us. That is why we are committed to making our findings accessible – both in content and format – to our university and alumni as well as to scholars everywhere such as K-12 school teachers. The center should have lasting, meaningful impact that will embrace and inspire many others.” In this vein, CML will provide opportunities for research, teaching, and engagement with Northern Virginia communities around the history of slavery and its legacies in modern society.
John Zenelis, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, signals the vital importance of the shared goals animating the partnership of CHSS and the Libraries, “The center is a natural outcome of student success and scholarly research. I am pleased that the Libraries’ faculty and staff are both leading and supporting our university in a way that brings greater visibility to our institution’s premier academic contributions. The Libraries offer an ideal, curated repository for the center’s archive of collected materials, community records, and academic products, which will enhance administrative, faculty, and student commitments to diversifying and deepening collaborative learning at Mason.”
Ann Ardis, Dean of CHSS, notes that “this exciting new partnership between CHSS faculty and the University Libraries is bringing George Mason’s complicated legacies to digital life for a new generation of student-scholars and enabling important new dimensions of community engagement and K12 outreach. The work that Dr. Oberle, Professor Carton, and Professor Manuel-Scott and their teams of student researchers are undertaking is a great example of Mason’s trademark commitments to collaborative, project-based learning and research of consequence.”
For more about the CML’s ongoing projects and future plans, visit https://library.gmu.edu/legaciesofgeorgemason. The website showcases student analyses and projects, primary sources, and will be the home of an online academic journal promoting relevant scholarship.
June 30, 2020