Reception/conference space, Department of History
New space, new opportunities
Location matters, and space is culture.
The Department of History has occupied five different physical environs in the last twenty years. Perhaps most memorable (in various senses of the word) was its decades-long home in the basement of Gibbons Hall. As one of the alumni profiled elsewhere in this issue of our newsletter put it, “It was like being in the dungeon of a castle next to a basilica.” After the condition of that space forced a move, we were next in the old University Center (now Father O’Connell Hall), but with full acknowledgement that it was only temporary, until fundraising made that building’s complete renovation possible. Then on to Marist Hall: at the opposite end of campus, but with congenial neighbors (English, Politics, Media Studies) at least. When Marist’s foundations became unsafe, our next assignment was O’Boyle Hall, with faculty offices found anywhere there were vacancies, across multiple wings and floors of that building and interspersed with the Psychology and Education departments.
Gertrude Stein famously said “There is no there there”. Wiktionary helpfully glosses this to mean “The indicated thing, person, or other matter has no distinctive identity, or no sigificant characteristics, or no functional center point; nothing significant exists in that place; nothing significant is occurring in that situation.” That is a charitable way to describe that phase of our peregrinations. Few of our students would find their way up the hill to O’Boyle unless they had to, for classes or appointments (though we used to joke that at least that demonstrated our concern for our students’ well-being: that hill was great cardio). There was no sense that there was a space they could identify with “I’m now in the department of the subject I’m majoring in”, let alone “I might just happen to run into a professor or fellow student and have an unexpectedly interesting conversation, or even just feel our mutual belonging to History reinforced”. Then Covid-19 arrived: but even after we were back to in-person, just happening to see a faculty colleague by random chance in the O’Boyle hallways was rare enough to seem like a vision. There were few to none of the chance encounters and impromptu conversations that can lead to unexpected satori (to use the Zen term for enlightenment).
As of the beginning of the fall 2023 semester the Department of History is now ensconced in a suite of rooms on the third floor of McMahon Hall, at the heart of campus (and in the university’s second-oldest building). Moving more than a dozen offices plus communal space and all paraphernalia is never without headaches (though tempered by the adroit choreography of the process by Lisa Brennan, our Academic Specialist). The Department now has a large central area, suitable for conference-room and reception uses, with most faculty offices directly opening off that area. There is also a lounge/study space set aside for students.
Student lounge/study space, Department of History
Dr Michael Kimmage, Professor and Chair of the Department, expresses his aspirations for our new space this way: “We in the History Department are delighted, after being nomads for years on the Catholic University campus, to have come home to McMahon Hall. We very much look forward to making the history department – in its attractive new setting – a place of conviviality and of intellectual exchange, a meeting point for everyone on campus who's interested in history.”
Gabriel Toto, a senior History major and Co-President of the newly rebooted History Club, comments: “The History Department’s new space in McMahon is a welcome change for the department. Now, instead of walking all the way over to O’Boyle, we have a lovely new meeting area at the heart of campus. Having most professors in this space makes meeting with them convenient, and the new history lounge is something that I know all history students will enjoy. You can study and meet with fellow history students, and see your professors. I’m so glad we have this new space now, and I know it will be a benefit for current and new history students!”
And so we have a true sense that the Department has indeed "come home". We most sincerely thank all those who've made this move possible and we hope that any alumni who might be visiting campus in the future will contact us -- we'd love to show off our new surroundings!