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'MCLA has always been an important cultivator of creativity'

07/09/2014

Above, the City of North Adams. Below, faculty and students at the College in 1915.

Alisia True '14 of Lyndeborough, N.H., has lived in North Adams for a relatively short time, but she's an expert on what the community was like 100 years ago.

True was one of 13 students from 10 Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) campuses founded before 1914 to research their home institutions and the surrounding communities to find out what they were were like during World War I.

As part of the project, True built a digital history website (http://mcla.centuryamerica.org) that offers a snapshot of life and community at MCLA during this important moment in America's history.

As a participant in the "Century America Digital Liberal Art Project," True was one of several undergraduate researchers to join Dr. Bill Spellman of the University of North Carolina-Asheville and Dr. Jeffrey McClurken of the University of Mary Washington on June 29 to discuss what life was like during the Great War, at the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Conference in Washington, D.C.

True discovered that, while North Adams has grown quite a bit over the past century, much has remained the same.

"It was, and is, a hard working town in which everyone pulls together for the benefit of the wider community with little complaint," she said.

In 1914, "the College was chiefly focused on providing the state of Massachusetts with bright, knowledgeable, energetic, passionate, kind, well-rounded teachers. Instilling a sense of community pride, both local and nation-wide, was key.

"Much like today, the College was very accommodating and encouraging when it came to student initiatives, especially when it involved the arts. It seems MCLA has always been an important cultivator of creativity."

According to True, "North Adams threw itself completely into the war effort, sacrificing the most basic comforts in order to conserve energy and precious materials.

"Because of this, by the end of the war, the infrastructure of the town had been neglected and needed some serious work. The sacrifices made by the community were seen less as challenges and more as simple civic duties. The real challenge was trying to return the town to its pre-war state."

What amazed her the most about what she discovered, was the effect the war had on bringing the College and the North Adams community closer together.

"In contributing to the war effort, the school and the town truly banded together for what appears to be the first time. There was a war garden of course, and the College offered evening sewing classes to all the women of North Adams," she said.

"But what I found to be most important was the way the school contributed to providing North Adams with patriotism, pride, and comfort during war time with its numerous concerts, plays, and community activities," True said. "MCLA was vital in keeping up the morale of the community during an intense moment in history."

This Teagle Foundation-supported research project, True said, not only gave her the opportunity to conduct archival research for the first time, it was a fantastic learning experience in that she learned how to present historical information in a format completely different from an academic paper.

One of True's favorite parts of the experience was presenting her work at the conference. "It felt wonderful to share our hard work, and those who attended our presentation were extremely interested in our project and wanted to learn more," she said.

A history major at MCLA who aspires to become a historical archivist, True expects to graduate this fall, plans to attend a graduate school with an archival studies or public history program.

For more information, go to www.mcla.edu and http://mcla.centuryamerica.org.