This project is a new attempt at recording the history of Connecticut College that I have presented as a hypermedia narrative. It’s multimedia, on a website, not in a book, as an attempt to give readers authority over how they choose to consume the story. The idea was born out of a few things: the first is a penchant for storytelling and a deep curiosity about the history of Connecticut College, my college. The second, my self-designed interdisciplinary major in New Media Studies, a humanities-based look into how new technology, specifically the Internet, is affecting the way people consume and interact with their news. The third, a four-year stint writing for, thinking about, and publishing the goings-on of our college as an editor of the student newspaper, The College Voice. And the last is a force that all graduating students feel: a desire to conclude four full years of intellectual and personal self-discovery.
As I began to put the pieces of this story together, I struggled to find the larger narrative within them. I started off with questions to direct my research: what characterizes Connecticut College? What are aspects of the experience to which students, faculty, staff and administrators can all relate? I hoped the College had a definable spirit, and wanted to pinpoint that spirit through stories from its history.
This question has no simple answer. As Oakes Ames put it to a consultant reiterating the question what’s special about Connecticut College, “‘Look, this college isn’t just like a white canvas on the wall with a red slash across it, a piece of abstract art. It’s not like that. It’s got all kinds of pieces and parts, and the sum of them is what makes it special.’”1
Ames realized that despite the deep truth of this statement, it wasn’t a tagline, and for a capital campaign, they needed to spotlight one thing that made Connecticut College special. They chose the faculty; an honorable focus. This thesis has more room to explore the question.
My thesis aims to push beyond the promotional material launched outside the college gates and create a focused, more realistic account of how members of the Connecticut College community have experienced this school day-to-day through its history. As years go by, its stories get lost in the impending present, or glossed over and reconfigured into shared myths. And yet the stories are the building blocks of our understanding of this college now, and in its centennial year, I have felt a strong impulse to seek them out and write them down.
The real point here, as I’ve learned from this journey and from Marshall McLuhan, is in the medium: to experiment with hypertextuality and with our sense of narrative by creating a story designed to give the consumer this power of choice. But as my research concludes, I have found that the spirit of this college can be understood through a few substantial characteristics. I will not share them now.
This narrative is speckled with hyperlinks that help tell the story through more than prose: pictures, scans of diary entries, video clips, digital recordings, and newspaper excerpts, to name a few. Consumers can choose where they want to start, where they want to go, and what, if anything, they want to click. The late writer David Foster Wallace was infamous for his liberal use of footnotes and endnotes to, as he once told Charlie Rose, parallel a new lived experience. “There is a way, it seems to me, that reality is fractured now, at least the reality that I live in,” he said. “The difficulty about writing about that reality is that text is very linear, it’s very unified. I, anyway, am constantly on the lookout for ways to fracture the text that aren’t totally disoriented. You can take the lines and jumble them up, and that’s nicely fractured, but nobody’s going to read it. There’s got to be some interplay between how difficult you make it for the reader and how seductive it is for the reader so that the reader is willing to do it.”2 He also wrote to his editor, “I pray this is nothing like hypertext, but it seems to be interesting and the best way to get the exfoliating curve-line plot I wanted.”3
It’s understandable that Wallace wanted to protect his work from being associated with hypertext. It is a messy subgenre that feels still very unfinished: the poetry is ambiguous and untrustworthy, the fiction is often disorienting, and a hypertextual narrative embraces the very medium that Wallace disdains. And yet this is a generation, even more so now, that embraces Google as a lifestyle: we consume content by link surfing and searching concepts online. My goal here is to reflect this technology by taking a history not entirely told, based in the past, and presenting it in a way that adheres to the fractured way my generation comfortably consumes content now.
My endnotes are hypertextual to allow a more immersive, explorative experience upon consuming. With every trip to the College Archives, with every interview, I am putting together pieces of a story that’s impossible to tell in full. Any researcher, from any generation, can relate to this feeling of discovery; interestingly, surfing the vast, untamed virtual sphere of the Internet can produce a parallel experience on a less specialized scale.
I encourage you to consider the question: how does being given choice affect the way you perceive the story as a conclusive whole? Listen to Frank Tuitt talk about planning the Fanning Takeover in 1986, then browse photos of women lounging in the Arboretum in 1927, then read the story of the faculty uniting to fire a divisive president in 2000. How do you understand the social history of this school differently than if you were to read it in print, in order, from cover to cover?
Read, immerse, explore, and extract. Enjoy the journey.