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  Project 4 - Letters Home from MHC 1948-1951: Mary Elizabeth Browning '51

Question: Drawing on the letters you have analyzed, and using at least 2 other primary sources from the Mount Holyoke Archives to contextualize them, describe one way in which the Mount Holyoke community of 2004 is similar or different than the Mount Holyoke community described by Mary Elizabeth Browning in the early 1950s.

Notes: For this assignment, Sociology 224 students picked topics that they had noticed while reading Mary Elizabeth Browning’s letters from 1947 and 1948, written in her first year at Mount Holyoke, and researched them using resources from the archives and from campus today, in 2004. Differences in community in 2004 that students examined include the grading system, the career development center compared with its predecessor the appointment bureau, the declining significance of campus social events like dances, the academic calendar, and the increased diversity of religious communities on campus. Other students researched aspects of college life they found to be somewhat similar across the decades such as academic and physical education requirements, pressure on students to “do it all,” frequent communication with family, and severe New England winters. A popular topic that inspired essays arguing for both similarity and difference of community was Mount Holyoke traditions. Some students focused on traditions such as Big Sister/ Little Sister, Mountain Day, and Dis-Orientation (adapted from Hazing Day), claiming that traditions are an important part of the foundation of Mount Holyoke student life and their continuation signifies similarities between campus today and 50 years ago. Others focused on how much these same traditions have changed from the way they were in Mary Elizabeth Browning’s time at Mount Holyoke and how these changes signify how different the college is overall. That various interpretations are possible from the same data source is very evident in these essays, and this connects to another theme of Sociology 224: the nature of memory and the ways that we construct history.

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