Who Are We?

Department Staff:
Jeffrey Bayliss, Dept. Chair
Gigi St. Peter, Admin. Assistant
Blog Editors:
Brendan W. Clark ’21
Prof. Sean Cocco
Prof. Seth Markle
Prof. Luis Figueroa-Martínez
Campus Address:
Seabury Hall T–127
Postal Address:
History Department
Trinity College
300 Summit Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Telephone & Fax:
Phone: (860) 297.2397
Fax: (860) 297.5111

Trinity College on the Occasion of its 197th Charter Day

By Gillian Reinhard ’20

Contributor; History Major 

Today, May 16, Trinity College celebrates the 197th anniversary of Charter Day. This occasion marks the date that the Connecticut General Assembly approved Trinity’s charter, giving the school (then called Washington College) the ability to exist as an institution. Professor of History Glenn Weaver, in his 1967 account The History of Trinity College credits Episcopal Bishop Thomas Church Brownell (now proudly watching over Trinity via a statue on the quad) with bringing the first Episcopalian college to Connecticut.

The call for Washington College arose as Connecticut’s old Standing Orders were discarded in 1818 in favor of a new Constitution, which ended the de facto “establishment” of the Congregational Church in the state. According to Weaver, the founding of Connecticut’s Episcopal institution closely mirrored the creation of Geneva College (now Hobart College of Hobart and William Smith Colleges) in 1822.

Episcopalian founders argued before the Connecticut General Assembly that the creation of a second college in Connecticut would greatly benefit the state and its people, not compete with the venerable Yale, Connecticut’s school affiliated with Congregationalism.

As the petition for a second college in Connecticut and the first Episcopal college in Connecticut was circulated around the state, the idea of Washington College was met with some backlash. The day the state legislature entertained the petition, as Weaver recounts in his history, Yale—likely in a move to erode support for Washington College—severed some ties with the Congregational Church, proclaiming that officers of the college were no longer required to subscribe to Congregational orthodoxy. Eventually, the pressure of another college in Connecticut resulted in the necessary admittance of non-Congregationalist students to Yale by the mid-nineteenth century.

Additionally, the community residing in what is today Cheshire, Connecticut, refused to take out endowments from the Episcopal Church’s first educational institution in the state, the Episcopal Academy of Connecticut (founded by Samuel Seabury and now the boarding school Cheshire Academy), to support Washington College. Earlier attempts to transform the Episcopal Academy of Connecticut to the Episcopal College of Connecticut were unsuccessful.

Brownell, who was the Third Diocesan Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut from 1819-1865, later served as the 7th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1852-1865 and as President of Washington College from its founding until his resignation in 1831. Brownell worked alongside prominent Connecticut men including Hartford merchant and diplomat Charles Sigourney, businessman and philanthropist David Watkinson, U.S. Representative and Connecticut State Senator Ebenezer Young, and Episcopal ministers Richard Adams, Thomas Macdonough, and Nathan Smith to establish the college.

Some ruminations on the charter from Tripod Editor-in-Chief Malcolm Collins Farrow ’05. Photo courtesy of the Watkinson Library and College Archives.

The Hartford Courant (originally the Connecticut Courant) reported on the bill to establish a new college in the state as it was presented to the Legislature. Though the report included the “advantages of the establishment of another literary institution, founded on just and liberal principles,” the Courant reported some hesitance to grant the charter. Some members of the Legislature objected, as it may have an “unfavorable and unfriendly influence” on Yale. Despite this, the Courant announced that the Charter was accepted and approved by a “handsome majority.”

The Charter for Washington College was granted by the Connecticut Legislature on May 16, 1823. This makes Trinity’s founding date, 1823, however, the college did not graduate students until 1825, with the first class consisting of one senior, one sophomore, and six freshmen who began in September 1824.

In fact, it was not until March of 1824 that the College’s Trustees voted on a location for the institution, Hartford, which won over Middletown and New Haven. Hartford citizens would later contribute $22,515 in support of the College’s construction on property now adjacent to Bushnell Park.

A key aspect of the College’s charter championed by Brownell was the refusal to force incoming students (or members of the Board of Trustees) to undergo religious examination. At the time, this distinguished Trinity from peer schools that took a less progressive stance on religious tolerance, as pointed out by the late College Archivist Peter Knapp in his text Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. The Charter of Washington College, which espouses the “great advantages accrue[d] to the State, as well as to the general interests of literature and science,” can be read in full via the College’s digital repository here.

In a Tripod commemorative from 1905, then Editor-in-Chief Malcolm Collins Farrow ’05 reflected on the significance of the Charter’s 82nd anniversary at the time of the inauguration of Flavel Sweeten Luther as College President. Specifically, the writer ruminated on the declining role of the Episcopal Church at Trinity and the widespread religious tolerance promoted by the College. A Tripod article from May 1923 reports on a celebratory service in the Trinity Chapel to mark the centennial of the Charter’s approval. Thirty years later, in 1953, President Albert C. Jacobs was officially recognized as College President in a formal ceremony recognizing the 130th anniversary of the Charter.

Since then, there does not seem to be a consistent celebration in recognition of Charter Day on May 16. In the 1990s, then President Dobelle brought first-years to the Old State House in downtown Hartford to sign the matriculation book, as opposed to the Chapel. The Tripod noted some disagreement with this practice, as a writer for a 1996 issue of the paper argued that celebrating matriculation at the Old State House could be seen as “unwelcoming” to a student body increasingly not from Connecticut or New England.

It seems that a return to festive celebrations of this momentous occasion is perhaps long overdue. Especially as we are all separated by the coronavirus and unable to be at our beloved alma matter, an old tradition should be revived when we are together next May: the celebration of Charter Day by the faculty, alumni, and students of Trinity College. After all, so many of us owe our education and work today to this institution and to the zeal of our founders for the liberal arts tradition we so dearly love.

This article first appeared in the Trinity Tripod on Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Congratulations to Our Class of 2020 History Thesis Writers!

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

Congratulations to four of the History Department’s senior majors who presented the culmination of a year’s worth of research and study this past Friday!

Despite the difficulties which beset the end of their work from the coronavirus crisis, Gillian Reinhard ’20, Aidan Turek ’20, William Tjeltveit ’20, and Connor Struyk ’20 presented their research to the department’s faculty and friends via thoughtful presentations on Zoom.

Reinhard’s thesis, “Orientalist Opera: Western Perceptions of the Other in the Early Twentieth Century,” focused on the premiere of Giaccomo Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House in London during the 1920s. Reinhard relied on a variety of primary source material and newspaper coverage of the premiere and sought to examine the place and extent of Orientalism in the British imagination. Drawing on scholarship from noted British historians Robert Bickers, Sarah Cheang, and John MacKenzie, Reinhard also argued for a greater recognition of the opera as serving the imperialist ambitions of the British Empire. You can read more about Reinhard and her thesis, which were profiled by History@Trinity in November, here.

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A Concise History of Trinity College and the 1918 Influenza

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

An Introduction: The Pandemic of a Century

A review of Trinity’s response to the 1918 flu pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish influenza” or the “Spanish flu,” is doubtless merited in our present time living through the 2019 coronavirus.[1] With that in mind, the following is a recitation of Trinity’s actions and some student responses made during the course of an event that impacted millions at the start of the twentieth. There are admittedly few Trinity sources, but those that remain illumine this region of history so relevant for us today and form the subject of our study.

“Quarantine Lifted.” The Trinity Tripod, Nov. 5, 1918.

While the College archives reveal that Trinity was not unaffected by the pandemic, there is no mention of it in our two major annals of College history. Esteemed College archivist Peter Knapp ’65 makes no mention of the pandemic in Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. Rather, he notes correctly that the gravamen in 1918 for the College—and President Flavel Sweeten Luther ’70—was World War I and the institution’s military response. Knapp, quoting Luther, indicates that “other areas of concern included student social and academic life, which had suffered from the disruptions of World War I.”[2] Knapp notes, also, that the College held its Commencement in June 1918 in the midst of the pandemic. Indeed, with former President Theodore Roosevelt in attendance as an honorand and speaker, he gave his peroration to “‘the largest crowd of people ever assembled at one time on campus,’ estimated at approximately 5,000.”[3]

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Senior Thesis Profile: Aidan Turek Examines Albert Speer and Nazi Apologists

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

Aidan Turek ’20 is the President’s Fellow in Political Science and a senior thesis writer in the History Department. History@Trinity’s Brendan Clark spoke with Aidan to ask him a few questions about his thesis and his experience with the History Department.

Albert Speer, Nazi Minister of Armaments and War Production, whose attempts to rewrite the Nazi atrocities are examined by Turek in his thesis. Courtesy of the German Federal Archive.

1. Describe your research topic in two minutes or less (let’s say 200 words or less).

My thesis is a study of Albert Speer, the famed Nazi architect, designer, and industrial genius who was Hitler’s right-hand man and a possible successor. Specifically, I’m examining his life and legacy through the lens of biographization—how historical memory is constructed and deconstructed. Speer was intimately involved in the functioning of the Third Reich, and yet at Nuremberg he successfully presented himself as an apolitical technocrat, and in doing so escaped the executions that befell his colleagues. In his hugely influential autobiography, Speer basically set the tone for Nazi apologists, manipulating his own life and historical fact to prove his own innocence. While more recent biographies have gone back and seriously questioned his life, to this day Speer still guides the discourse surrounding him, and thus Nazism more generally. My goal is to reopen some of the areas neglected by Speer and his biographers, to explore interesting facets of his life that reveal the true extent of his moral culpability and the criminal nature of his actions. I think that researching Speer allows me to delve into fascinating ethical questions while also exploring and illuminating just how history gets constructed.
2. What specific aspects of your academic career at Trinity and your personal historical interests led you to select this topic?

This actually all started after watching a YouTube video about one of Speer’s projects. I figured myself an amateurish expert in World War Two, but Speer’s name had only come up in passing, and none of it dealt with his unique contributions to fascism. And then there’s the fact that he died so recently—in 1981—which got me wondering how Nazis could stick around and have a say for that long. Personally I was drawn in by this muddle of philosophical and historical trends, but I gained quite a bit from Trinity as well. I have an avid interest in political science and German studies, and Albert Speer and his life have actually come up quite a bit. I’ve encountered scholars in classes that discuss the direct historical background, like Weimar Germany’s political culture, alongside literature on the authoritarian capacity of architecture. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Berlin with Trinity to get a hands-on look at what I’ve been researching.

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Senior Thesis Profile: Gillian Reinhard Talks Turandot and Tripod

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

Gillian Reinhard ’20 is the President’s Fellow in History, the Department’s inaugural Chatfield Fellow, and a senior thesis writer. History@Trinity’s Brendan Clark sat with Gillian to ask her a few questions about her thesis and her experience with the History Department.

Gillian Reinhard ’20, History Major, poses with her Tripod history scrapbook. Courtesy of Brendan Clark ’21.
Gillian Reinhard ’20 outside of the Forbidden City, the palace in Beijing. Courtesy of Gillian Reinhard ’20.
  1. Describe your research topic in two minutes or less.

I am looking at the 1926 opera Turandot, by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The first part of my thesis concerns how different cultures portrayed exoticism and embraced Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism. I am applying what I have learned in the first chapter to look specifically at how British audiences perceived Puccini’s opera when it arrived in London a year later, again from the perspective of Orientalism. The relationship between Britain and China is a unique one, with a long, complicated history, and I am hopeful that an analysis of this opera can shed light on this relationship.

  1. What specific aspects of your academic career at Trinity and your personal historical interests led you to select this topic?

Firstly, I have studied Mandarin Chinese since middle school and had the opportunity to study abroad in Shanghai during the fall of my junior year. My experience abroad truly shed light on the concept of Orientalism in the West. Also, I read Orientalism, by Edward Said, in my first-year seminar “Arabian Nights” with Associate Professor of History Zayde Antrim. That text has shaped much of my academic work. I decided to look at it through the lens of opera, as it has always been a quirky interest of mine.

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History Department Welcomes Clark L. Alejandrino

Faculty members of Trinity’s History Department are very excited to welcome Dr. Clark Alejandrino as the new Assistant Professor of Chinese History. According to his faculty profile, “after finishing his undergraduate degree in history in the Philippines, Clark Alejandrino trained in Sinology in Australia and went on to finish a Ph.D. in East Asian Environmental History at Georgetown University. He specializes in the environmental history of China, especially its climate and animal history, covering the fifth to the twentieth century in his research. He is currently preparing a book manuscript on typhoons in the history of the South China coast and preparing to embark on a new project exploring the history of migratory birds in East Asia. At Trinity, he teaches courses on Chinese history, environmental history, world history, and Pacific history. He has received funding for his research from the Social Science Research Council, American Council of Learned Societies, Henry Luce Foundation, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and the National Central Library of Taiwan.”

This year, Professor Alejandrino will be teaching “Climate and History”, “History of China: Shang-Ming Dynasty”, “History of Chiang: Qing Dynasty to Present”, and “River Cities of China.”

Trinity College History Department: Fifty Years Later

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major 

The Trinity College Class of 1969 is celebrating their 50th Reunion in June of 2019. In honor of the Class of 1969, the History Department posed for a department picture fifty years later.

The Trinity College History Department, 1969: Dr. Glenn Weaver, Mr. Ronald J. Spencer, Mr. Anthony G. Netting, Dr. H.M. Steele, Jr., Dr. George Cooper (chairman), Dr. Norton Downs, Dr. James V. Compton, and Dr. Philip C. Bankwitz.
The Trinity College History Department, 2019: Back Row: Dr. Zayde Antrim, Dr. Sean Cocco, Dr. Jonathan M. Elukin, Dr. Scott Gac, Dr. Thomas Wickman, Dr. Kathleen Kete, Dr. Samuel D. Kassow, Dr. Jeffery Bayliss (chairman). Front Row: Dr. Jennifer M. Regan-Lefebvre, Dr. Seth M. Markle, Dr. Cheryl Greenberg, Gigi St. Peter). Not Pictured: Dr. Lauren E. Caldwell, Dr. Dario A. Euraque, Dr. Luis A. Figueroa, Dr. Alexander D. Manevitz, Dr. Michael E. Lestz, and Dr. Gary Regar.

History Course To Visit Significant World War II Locations In Japan

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall after the bombing on August 6th, 1945.

Editor; History Major 

The Trinity College History Department is offering a new course that will provide students with the opportunity to visit key sites of significant military action during World War II. Associate Professor of History and Department Chair Jeffrey Bayliss will teach the course, and Associate Professor of History Michael Lestz will join the visits, which include stops in Tokyo, Okinawa, and Hiroshima this June.

These sites, added Bayliss, each have significance to the military history of World War II and the experiences of Japanese and American soldiers. Bayliss added that “because the Japanese have memorialized the war in various ways, we can get into questions of historical and political memory” during the course.

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A Conversation With Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Professor and Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer

Editor; History Major 

Professor and Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer ’64 has long been a fixture of Trinity College and for more than forty years taught the history of the Civil War, among other topics, in the Trinity College History Department.

While at Trinity, Spencer studied history and took a class colloquially referred to as from “Christ to Khrushchev.” Spencer notes that during his early years as a history major, United States history was relatively weak in comparison to the European canon. Spencer recalls that that changed when former Professor Edward “Ted” Sloan, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, a graduate of Harvard and Yale, arrived on the campus.

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History Majors Awarded Prizes At 68th Honors Day Ceremony

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

The History Department gave six awards at the 68th annual Honors Day Ceremony on Friday, May 4th, 2018. Honors Day was introduced as part of a revival of “academic pageantry” by the Thirteenth President of the Trinity, George Keith Funston ’32, in 1950. At Honors Day, all undergraduate awards–excluding those disseminated at Commencement–are given out in the Chapel (Trinity College in the Twentieth Century).

Congratulations to all the History Department students recognized for their outstanding undergraduate scholarship!

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