Student curates new Swem Library exhibit detailing formerly excluded moments in history

Mitzy Colligan '24

Thursday, Feb. 8, Mitzy Colligan ’24 presented her newest historical project entitled “Happy Birthday, William & Mary!” at Earl Gregg Swem Library. In light of the 331st anniversary of the College of William and Mary’s royal charter, the exhibit includes a collection of several t-shirt designs, each illustrating different versions of the College’s history chronologically. Colligan curated the exhibit in collaboration with Tyler Goldberger M.A. ’20, Ph.D. candidate in history and Special Collections instruction and research associate.

Colligan’s design concept originated as a re-examination of the 1993 Tercentenary T-Shirt, which was created to commemorate the College’s 300th anniversary. Worn by students and faculty at the time, the original design now remains in Special Collections. Colligan discovered it last year while working on a project for her history class taught by Goldberger. 

In 2023, Colligan reimagined the 1993 timeline t-shirt for the College’s 330th anniversary. Rather than reporting on the same events as the original, she aimed to shed light on the often untold experiences of the institution’s marginalized groups. According to Colligan and Goldberger, the original version excluded important moments in the College’s history, painting an incomplete and misleading narrative of the institution. 

“In interpreting the t-shirt as a site of memory, we were struck by the choices the creators made — not only the events they chose to include and exalt, but especially what they forgot or chose to exclude from a celebratory retelling of William & Mary’s history,” the exhibit description reads. “The 1993 rendition of the university’s history represented a selective, privileged narrative that failed to acknowledge the complexities of the Alma Mater of the Nation.” 

“The 1993 rendition of the university’s history represented a selective, privileged narrative that failed to acknowledge the complexities of the Alma Mater of the Nation.” 

On Colligan’s personal t-shirt design, green text denoted the events included on the original shirt, and yellow text marked new inclusions which had either been forgotten or had occurred within the last 30 years. Colligan explained that the College’s integration was one of many crucial aspects left out of the 1993 design which she was sure to include in her own. 

“I feel like we hadn’t confronted university history as much back in the ’90s,” Colligan said. “There were a lot of things that I thought were really missing from the t-shirt that should have been added. A big one that wasn’t on there was integration, and there was a lot of offensive use of logos on there. I was really excited to bring it forward 30 more years in history.”

Several on-campus organizations submitted their own t-shirt depictions of the College’s history for the exhibit, including the Lemon Project, Spotswood Society, History Club and Highland. Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of the American Indian Resource Center Danielle Moretti-Langholtz crafted her own design which emphasized the legacy of the Brafferton Indian School, establishment of the Native Studies minor in 2017, and creation of the College’s official land acknowledgement in 2020. 

In her artistic statement, Moretti-Langholtz stressed the difficulty of creating a timeline which fully reflected the complex and strained relationship between the College and Native communities across multiple centuries. 

“The biggest challenge in creating the t-shirt timeline was reflecting on the two centuries of blank space since the closing of the Brafferton Indian School and the start of new research on the Indian School,” Moretti-Langholtz said. “The rupture in the timeline reflects the fractured relationship between the College and Native communities. Also, dates by themselves do not fully represent the complicated story of the Brafferton Indian School and the Native boys who lived and studied on our campus.”

Katie Moniz ’24 is a member of Spotswood Society who spearheaded the organization’s t-shirt design alongside Katie Shiflett ’26. Moniz shared how the restoration and evolution of the Wren Building, on which she’s currently writing her honors thesis, was a central focal point of their society’s timeline. 

“It often gets overlooked, the history of the restoration of the building, and things like the actual historic site,” Moniz said. “That’s something that not a lot of people know about. And people also don’t know that it was a Colonial Williamsburg exhibition space for a long time. It’s changed a lot over the years.”

“It often gets overlooked, the history of the restoration of the building, and things like the actual historic site.”

Ben Armus ’26 attended the event as a member of the History Club who contributed to the group’s design. Armus explained how the club’s final product showcases both well-known events from the College’s history and ones that are meaningful to individual members. 

“What I wanted to do was combine things that I thought were important and not included on the original timeline, with things that were personally significant to me,” Armus said. “So you have the Shenkman Jewish Center. That’s maybe not a huge event in the history of the College, but something that would be more personally relevant.” 

Tami Back, senior director of communications and engagement for the College’s libraries, shared her excitement about the library’s newest addition, and highlighted the importance of including as many different perspectives as possible in the exhibit’s portrayal of the College’s vast history. 

“I think it’s really turned out to be a fantastic exhibit,” Back said. “I love just seeing the different viewpoints and history points that are included on the timelines, because there’s so much history. Over 330 years of history that we have here.” 

“Happy Birthday, William & Mary!” will remain on display at Swem Library’s entrance gallery through April 21.


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