Oral Historian Joins Starr Center

By Cassandra Sottile
Elm Staff Writer

Erica Fugger loved the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience’s public history focus, she said.

“I have had numerous history mentors since middle school. I’ve always had questions about the world, but I never had any answers,” she said. “After majoring in history and German and minoring in American Studies, I have realized that the present is understood through history, which finally provided me a way to answer all my questions.”

Over the summer,  she joined the team as an oral historian.

According to the Starr Center’s page, Fugger is helping to develop training curriculum and community partnerships for the StoryQuest Project, which records memories of World War II on the American home front.

The StoryQuest project has been in progress since 2013, and the Starr Center received new funding for a nationwide scope.

Prior to accepting the position, Fugger studied and worked at Columbia University, specifically as collections manager for the Center for Oral History Archives, the oldest and most prestigious oral history archive and master’s program for oral history in the country. In 2017, Fugger also co-chaired the conference Oral History & The City in New York.

“Ms. Fugger has a longstanding interest in World War II, having written her undergraduate honors thesis on American aid for German POWs,” said Starr Center Director Adam Goodheart. “Her enthusiasm, as a rising star in the field, is certainly a testament to the value and uniqueness of the StoryQuest Project.”

Fugger has also worked as a research fellow on the Wake Up Oral History Project and as project coordinator to the Oral History MA program at Columbia University.

Though her heart belongs to the 1960s, when groups felt empathetic enough to rise up to promote change, the present day is of most interest to her.

“The present times are undoubtedly contested times; however, at this particular moment, women have more rights than they did at any other time period in history,” she said.

Her research focus concerns examining the personal narratives that underpin peace activism and social movements, which explains her passion for the 1960s.

She said her favorite historical figure is, “peace activist and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught at Columbia University and inspired Martin Luther King Jr.  to speak out against the Vietnam War.”

“Not to be cliché, but Alexander Hamilton is a close second because the first research paper I had ever done in eighth grade was about him,” she said.

Fugger also served as the founding president of the Columbia Oral History Alumni Association and on the organizing team for the Oral History Association Mentorship Program.

Goodheart said, “The position of StoryQuest’s World War II Home Front program is dedicated to seeding similar programs with partners around the country, intensifying and diversifying our urgent efforts to collect those precious historical testimonies. After a national search, we found someone outstanding — in fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone who would be better qualified to lead this stage of the project.”

Fugger is fitting right in to the Washington College community. When asked what modern innovation she would show George Washington, she said, “I would have dinner on the Sultana with him. Halfway through dessert, I would rev the engines to cruise down the Chester River with the sails still up, much to [Washington’s] surprise.”

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