This semester I am working with a senior on an independent study, which focuses on the admittance of female students to the University of Virginia in the early 1970s. The student in question has already been accepted by UVA on a full scholarship to play golf. After reading a number of secondary sources and meeting with a member of UVA’s history department, who focuses on women’s history, I decided it was time to head on over to Special Collections to check out some primary sources. My goal was to get her acclimated to the system so she can go in alone and on her own time. We looked at a number of collections, but one in particular stood out. It was called the “Woody Report” and it was commissioned by the university in 1968 to gather information from various campus community’s on where they stood on the issue of the integration of women into the university.
We thumbed through the pages, but at one point my student looked at me and said, “Mr. Levin, do you realize that this is the originial copy of the report?” I knew at that moment exactly what was going on in her mind, and I also knew that this student would never look at history the same way. In that moment she made the leap from textbook to an actual document. It’s impossible to communicate the experience of holding history in your hands; in those moments time collapses and you are confronted with a piece of a story that you’ve only read about through the interpretation of another. As we drove back to campus I casually remarked that she would have to find time in her schedule over the next few weeks to go back and check out some additional collections. Well, she looked at me and said that she had already decided to go back first thing tomorrow morning.
…and I’ve had a smile on my face since then.