Annika A. Culver, '97
Thank you for your opportunity to share my reminiscences of Vassar. Classes by Bob Brigham and David Schalk were some of the most memorable of my time at Vassar. Schalk once missed a day of class due to his father's funeral, and asked all of us if we would like to "make up" the lecture. Sure enough, we all agreed and showed up at 9:15 a.m. on a Saturday for a 50-minute lecture. Schalk brought us real croissants fresh from New York City (where his father's wake was held) along with black coffee from a stovetop espresso maker the way the French make it. Needless to say, we were so moved by his gesture. Schalk's father had been a professor at Harvard, and would have been proud of his son's dedication. I also remember when Robert McNamara came to talk with our class in one of the new amphitheater classrooms in the late nineties. Schalk stood up to ask a question and mentioned he had been one of the first to protest the Vietnam War in 1965 with an op-ed in the New York Times. McNamara had come on Brigham's invitation, and enjoyed meeting students. Oddly, I met him again in DC a couple of years later when working as an assistant journalist for a Japanese newspaper and covering a briefing on Capitol Hill on nuclear non-proliferation. He actually remembered who I was. Only at Vassar was it possible to actually meet the folks making history and to talk with them informally because of their personal relationships with our professors!
Schalk, Brigham, Smith, Wohl, and Merrell influenced me to eventually become a history professor myself after working as a teacher and a journalist. To tell you the truth, I was not sure if I really liked Vassar until I took my first history class. During my freshman year, I was a bit adrift since I did not know what to major in, until a roommate of a friend of mine randomly suggested I study history before he dashed off somewhere in his cape... Not sure why I took the advice of such a non-credible prognosticator, but it sealed my eventual fate in becoming a historian. I also have happy memories of reading Gertrude Himmelfarb for my Victorian London seminar up in one of the cozy 1920s style towers of the library where they had surprisingly cushy study rooms with velvety couches. Wohl actually let us read Victorian primary sources held on Library Reserve. One of the signs in his office read "Give blood, play Rugby." I don't really remember Schalk's office, but know that they dedicated a revamped seminar room upstairs to him.
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