May 31, 2006

Historian Carol Kammen brings undergraduate experience to life in her book 'First-Person Cornell'

"First-Person Cornell" (Cornell University Library, 2006), written by historian and Cornell lecturer Carol Kammen, invites us into the daily lives of Cornell students and captures, through their own words, the undergraduate experience.

We hear their voices and listen intently as they share their joys, sorrows and enthusiasm for life at Cornell: "The crowning event of the day was a reception given at Cascadilla Place by Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Cornell" (Royal Taft, 1869). "Well, I'm a regular bona fide freshman now. Went up and registered this morning. I got 80 on my English exam, German only got 73 ... Went down to football practice this afternoon. Got it good and hard" (W. Forrest Lee, Sept. 23, 1902).

Kammen's latest work includes excerpts from diaries, letters, scrapbooks and other memorabilia from the day Cornell opened in 1868 to the present. The book's entries are drawn primarily from documents in the library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections that were collected by archivists or donated by students and their families. In Kammen's hands they entertain, cause us to ponder and transport us through time to experience student life in a particular period. Perspectives may change, but students' interest in writing about their classes, professors, friends and Ithaca's weather remain a constant over the generations. "First-Person Cornell" provides a journey that rekindles the reader's own reflections.

Cornell President Hunter Rawlings writes in the book's foreword, "Their four years in Ithaca are a memorable time for Cornell students -- a time when they are cut adrift from family and home and thrust into a world of intellectual challenge and college culture. ... Their descriptions -- of their courses and professors, of their friends and activities, of themselves -- are the heart of this engaging book."

Cornell Library will host a book signing for "First-Person Cornell" during Reunion Weekend on Friday, June 9, in Olin Library from 11 a.m. until noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. Books will be available for sale during these times.

Kammen also is the Tompkins County historian and the 2005-06 Public Historian of the Year, appointed by the New York State Board of Regents. She has lectured and written extensively on New York history, including articles for the New York State Historical Association's Heritage magazine and History News, the journal of the American Association for State and Local History. For 30 years she has written a weekly newspaper column on local history in The Ithaca Journal.

She has written three local history books, "What They Wrote" (1978, published by the Cornell Library), "The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History" (1985) and "On Doing Local History" (1986), which is now in its second revised edition. In addition, she has written "Pursuit of Local History" (1996) and "The Encyclopedia of Local History" (2000), which she co-edited with Norma Prendergast. "First-Person Cornell" is Kammen's second book on Cornell University; her first, "Cornell: Glorious to View," was published in 2003.

For more information about the book signing, contact Lynn Brown at (607) 255-4813 or e-mail lcb1@cornell.edu.