Trinity College is one of 24 Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) member institutions selected to participate in the second cohort of the Humanities Research for the Public Good program, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant awarded to Trinity will be used to continue building and archiving the Watkinson Library’s “Hispanic Hartford” collection, or “Voces de la Migración: Hartford History Makers,” which includes oral histories and interviews with members of the Latinx community in Hartford.

A collection of interviews and oral histories spanning approximately 10 years was created by the college’s faculty and students in the “Hispanic Hartford” course, in collaboration with members of the local U.S. Latinx community. Hartford is home to one of New England’s largest Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking populations.

Christina Bleyer
Christina Bleyer

Christina Bleyer, the director of special collections and archives at the Watkinson Library and the principal investigator of the project, said that the lived experience and history of the U.S. Latinx community is underrepresented in institutional and scholarly discourse. “The ‘Hispanic Hartford’ collection offers the college a rare opportunity to fix a light on these experiences as lived by an important segment of its community,” she said. Bleyer added that the project will help ensure that experiences and contributions of the Latinx communities are recognized, appreciated, and researched.

In addition to Bleyer, the Trinity team for this project includes Aidalí Aponte-Avilés, lecturer and language coordinator in the Department of Language and Culture Studies, Director of Community Learning Erica Crowley, and Assistant Director of Corporate, Foundation, and Government Relations Mark Hughes.

Aidalí Aponte-Avilés
Aidalí Aponte-Avilés

In the summer of 2019, three undergraduate students worked with Bleyer and Aponte-Avilés to add to the collection, help process the existing material for long-term preservation, work with the Hartford Public Library on pop-up programming for the project, and create a database for future interviews. Students learned firsthand about the Latinx community in Hartford. Bleyer said, “They also gained a deep insight into how archival materials that relay stories, histories, and experiences can fall through the cracks of institutional creation of scholarly knowledge.”

Brenda Piedras ’21 saw the value of archiving oral histories. “I learned that in order to serve a community, it is necessary to truly understand it. The most accurate portrayal of a community comes directly from talking to its members,” said Piedras.

The grant will support efforts to conduct more interviews, create programming with the Hartford History Center and Hartford Public Library, and host two larger public programs. The events will showcase some of the interviews in the archive and include panel discussions with community members to examine the different archival sources in their communities.

Hartford Public Library
Josselyn Alejandra Zaldívar ’20 presents on the ‘Voces de la Migración’ project at the Hartford Public Library Park Street branch in 2019.

Bleyer said that, most importantly, the events will be opportunities for members of the Latinx community to share their stories. “The project will play a critical role in incorporating underrepresented communities and their history within the institutional and scholarly discourse,” she said.

Professor of Language and Culture Studies Johannes Evelein, acting chair of Trinity’s Department of Language and Culture Studies, added, “The project is a prime example of a Public Humanities Collaborative initiative that strengthens the ties between Trinity and the Hartford community. The Hispanic Studies section of the Department of Language and Culture Studies has strong ties to the Latinx community in Hartford, and its course on Hispanic Hartford has been a mainstay of the program. This CIC-funded project, in the good hands of Lay and Christina, will build on that relationship, and it will be wonderful to see Trinity students engage with the community through oral interviews and research.”

Humanities Research for the Public Good is a national initiative to promote student research and public engagement at private colleges and universities while showcasing their rich archival, library, and museum collections. Participating institutions each receive $10,000 to support a year-long undergraduate research project that draws on institutional collections to address a topic of interest to the local community. Each college collaborates with a community-based partner organization to share the results of student research with community members through public programs including exhibits, presentations, podcasts, and documentaries.

CIC will host a virtual workshop for the new cohort of program participants in June and July 2021. Project leaders and the student researchers they supervise will convene for a closing workshop in Baltimore, Maryland, in spring 2022.

For more information on the Humanities Research for the Public Good initiative, click here.