In the library on the second floor of Davis Hall, four undergraduate students join Stewart Bell Chair in History and Professor of History Warren Hofstra and Professor of English Doug Enders to share stories they’ve written based on historic facts, court documents, journals and tax records.
Sophomore Jon Bannan, a history and English double major from Pottstown, Pa., has prepared a narrative tale of two men living in Colonial Virginia during the late 1600s.
Sitting at the head of a long conference table, Bannan takes a deep breath. His hands poised over his laptop keypad, he launches into his story.
“We find ourselves walking on a hot summer day in the middle of June 1677,” Bannan begins. “Below us spreads the great land that will someday become known as Middlesex County in Virginia. It is land that will see great rises of prosperity as well as the crushing load of poverty before it rises to the place in history that we know today. However, the people that inhabit this land are not yet aware of this. To them, this land is a land of hope. It is one where they can get away from an English society that largely views them as the ‘lowest of the low.’ It’s a land where a free man can make his own fortune through his own hard work, and in some cases others’ hard work. As we float above the land, we find ourselves looking down upon the sprawling landscape. The trees grow tall, and most of the grasses grow wild.”
Khalid Johnson, a rising senior mass communications major from Richmond, Va., said researching and writing his story helped him to “get into the shoes” of a historic character who eventually rose from poverty and indentured servitude to land (and slave) ownership.
“In writing these stories, we had to examine the evidence, fill in the blanks and connect the dots to draw a bigger narrative,” said Johnson. “It allowed me to take what I learned about the people in the story and not water them down. My main character came to America as an indentured servant. In the story, he sees the difference between class and race. He knows what it’s like to be a poor white man in England and a poor white man in America. As an indentured servant, he works side-by-side with black slaves, but in the social order, he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“The short story is a great medium for describing and discussing history,” said Dr. Hofstra. “We wanted students to write about 16th century characters as 21st century writers. We wanted them to understand the social conflicts and social class issues. They’re learning that facts are just the beginning of discovery.”