For nearly 40 years, Vassar has had a college historian to help research and document our institutional history. The role began with legendary English Professor and Dean Elizabeth “Betty” Daniels ’41, who joined the faculty in 1948 and served as the first College Historian from 1985 to 2014. Colton Johnson, Professor Emeritus of English and former Dean of Studies and Dean of the College, who often worked with students to take on special projects such as the online Vassar Encyclopedia, served in the role after her retirement.
Upon announcing that Johnson will retire at the end of the academic year, President Elizabeth H. Bradley thanked him for his “deep and abiding love for the College. We have all benefited.”
Bradley announced that the new College Historian will be Ronald Patkus, Adjunct Associate Professor of History on the Frederick Weyerhaeuser Chair. He is also the Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections and oversees the archivist role in the library. Patkus, who has worked at the College since 2000, said Daniels was one of the first people he met when he arrived on campus. “I met Betty on my first day on the job when she came to my office to give me some information about the archives,” he said, “and we later worked together on a number of projects.”
Outgoing Historian Colton Johnson "has a deep and abiding love for the College ... We have all benefited."
—President Elizabeth H. Bradley
Bradley said Vassar’s historians play an important role in the ongoing life of the College and that one of their key roles is to ensure that the College’s story is told accurately and completely, with the ability not only to celebrate the College’s breakthroughs and achievements but also to reflect on the ways in which the College has participated in social inequities of many kinds.
As he assumes his new role, Patkus promises to take an unflinching look at Vassar’s past. “My job as Historian is to serve as a resource as Vassar investigates its history a little more closely and grapples with some difficult issues,” he said. “We want to take a closer look at some things that happened on campus, particularly as it pertains to race and racism. We will strive for a fuller, wider, deeper view of the College’s history.”
He says he sees himself as a “partner” with others in this endeavor and others. “We are at an interesting time in the College’s history and have an opportunity to bring to people’s attention to areas of our history that may have been overlooked in the past and engage with others on campus to view our history and what it means to those of us at the College today.”—Larry Hertz