Planning starts for University’s 250th anniversary

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011

The University will announce a steering committee to plan its 250th anniversary today, and related events could begin as early as fall 2013. Chartered in 1764, the University is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the country.

The 20-person committee — selected by President Ruth Simmons and Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 P’07 — is comprised of two undergraduate students, a graduate student, a medical student and members of the Corporation, faculty, administration and staff, according to today’s press release.

The steering committee will begin planning the semiquincentenary this semester and events may begin in fall 2013, a full year before the anniversary, according to the press release.

Though details of the celebration are yet to be determined, Jane Lancaster PhD’98, a historian and visiting assistant professor, is already working on a new history of the University, which will be published in time for the anniversary.

The University approached Lancaster in 2009 with the idea to write an updated history, and she began working on the project in early 2010.

Lancaster said the last comprehensive history of the University was published in 1914, and a shorter pamphlet was published in 2000 for a wider audience. She said she expected her history to be longer than the pamphlet but shorter and more readable than the 1914 publication.

“Part of the reason Brown asked me to do it is because I have a track record of producing readable history,” Lancaster said. She said the anniversary will be an appropriate time to put out a new history that represents the many changes that have occurred since 1914.

“One of the recommendations of the (Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice) was that a new history be written, and Brown is coming up on its 250th anniversary, so it’s about time we did something for the 21st century,” she said.

Lancaster, who taught HIST 1974: “Theory and Practice of Local History” last semester, will teach a research seminar on the history of the University in the fall. Students in the seminar will have the chance to contribute research to the new history, she said.

Lancaster said she is not looking to create controversy in her writing, though she is also not concerned about being censored by the University.

“It’s not my role as a historian to criticize ­— it is to uncover what the facts are and let the facts speak for themselves,” she said. “If I can document what I’m saying, no one should have any difficulty.”

The Brown Alumni Association is also working on an architectural guide to the campus that will come out for the anniversary, said Todd Andrews ’83, vice president of alumni relations and a member of the steering committee.

He added that Brown and Columbia are the only remaining Ivy League schools without this type of guide and that the anniversary will be a good time to publish it.

Besides Lancaster’s new history and the architectural guide, Andrews said the overall planning for the anniversary is “just getting underway.”

“Anniversaries like this one are unusual in America, and one of the unique aspects in being connected to Brown is being part of such a historic institution,” Andrews said.

Andrews said he hopes this serves as an opportunity to engage alums that may have not been involved for some time.

“We hope to see a surge in alumni interest and alumni pride in the University,” he said. “We’re considering alumni lectures, special programming around reunions and using social media to engage alumni who are perhaps not able to make it back to campus.”