By Molly Igoe
Pat Nugent, the new deputy director of the C.V. Starr Center for the study of the American Experience, was drawn to Washington College because of the promise of working closely with Starr Center colleagues. This way they work to develop interdisciplinary programs and projects, as well as organize road trips and site visits to bolster campus curriculum.
He said, “It’s exciting to be able to pair my teaching with the creation of public humanities programs throughout the town and region. Working with professors, incoming fellows, student clubs, community members, and institutional partners offers such amazing opportunities for collaboration and pedagogical creativity.”
Chestertown is the kind of place Nugent has always dreamed of living. As a native of Columbia, he appreciates the small town on the water that also offers a “real bubbling of creativity, community, and intellectual life.” He described it as being in the middle of nowhere, yet the center of everything—a unique crossroads between rural and urban, right and left, work and recreation, cutting-edge development, and historic preservation.
Nugent is currently teaching a GRW course called Activist/Artist, which studies 20th-century social movements through the lens of the artists who interacted with such activism. Students explore the popular front, Civil Rights Movement, black power, women’s liberation, gay civil rights, and AIDS activist movements. For their own individual research papers and presentations, students have been asked to choose a provocative work of art and contextualize it within a particular social movement.
“The students have selected an amazing lineup of artists and works of art, ranging from Nina Simone and John Lennon, to Gran Fury, Yoko Ono, Green Day, Frank Sinatra, and the Chicano Royal Air Force Art Collective. I’m really proud of the range of artists students have selected, and the depth with which they’re approaching their projects. It’s really inspiring to work with such motivated and inquisitive students,” he said.
Nugent is particularly fascinated by places of ruin and pollution in Chestertown, including places of industry. “I’m very interested in historicizing planning and environmental politics in Chestertown and Kent County. How did Wilmer Park become Wilmer Park? When did Eastern Neck become a Wildlife Refuge? I’m interested, in other words, in exploring the cultural and political history that helped construct what we typically perceive as natural spaces.”
He wants to tell the history of gentrification in Chestertown, which entails looking at recent racial and demographic changes in town, along with the politics and policies that have created, or turned a blind eye to, these changes. He believes the history of poverty and affordable housing in Kent County would make a revealing case study in a field dominated by studies focused on urban communities.
In April of next year, the Smithsonian is bringing an exhibit called The Way We Worked to Sumner Hall in town as part of a Smithsonian program called Museum on Main Street. The Starr Center is cosponsoring this month of interdisciplinary programs and exhibits, which will include walking and biking tours that will historicize labor and African American history around Chestertown. The tour, developed by students working in tandem with Nugent and his colleague Jean Wortman, will include the history of such sites as Dixon Valve, Garfield Theater, Radcliffe Mill, and the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, not to mention rambling through a number of old oyster houses, school houses, and train stations.
“I’m excited to partner with students, staff, and faculty to develop public history projects, curriculum, internships, and road trips,” he said. “All aboard.”