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History Gets Personal

Written by: 
Deblina Chakraborty

For Daniel Marrano ’13, the history of Bentley University is much more than the stuff of dusty documents and yellowed news clippings.

“Basically, my whole family has gone to Bentley,” he says of a clan that includes his mother, father and two siblings. “I’ve always been interested in the history of the school, because it’s part of my own history.”

When Marrano learned that faculty member Clifford Putney needed an assistant to help research a book about the university’s past, he jumped at the opportunity. The Finance major and History minor started working with Putney in fall 2011.

Inform and Engage

The project that Marrano joined was about a year underway. Bentley’s approaching centennial, in 2017, had inspired Putney to craft a book proposal with input from the library’s ad-hoc history committee.

“There really isn’t a comprehensive history of Bentley that exists in book form,” he says. “Any organization, when it reaches 100 years, should have a substantive, written history about itself to offer to the world.”

University leaders approved the venture in fall 2010 and tapped Putney as author.  His publication credits include Missionaries in Hawai'i: The Lives of Peter and Fanny Gulick, 1797-1883 (2010: University of Massachusetts Press) and Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (2001: Harvard University Press).

“They don’t want a 400-pound doorstop of a book, but I really pushed that it should include a lot of information,” explains the assistant professor of history. “The working concept is a ‘thinking person’s coffee table book.’ It will have substantive history, but also lots of pictures.”

 Trek Through Time

Each chapter is devoted to a presidential administration, from Harry Clark Bentley to Gloria Cordes Larson. With only three years for research and writing that covers so much ground, Putney has relied on help from student research assistants.

The group includes Marrano, who worked with Putney for the entire 2011-2012 academic year, and two other students — Eric Johnson ’13 and Tom Dunleavy ’11 — who did research in the spring 2011 semester. Johnson and Dunleavy worked primarily with Bentley’s archivist, logging many hours a week in the library basement, searching for historical documents that Putney could use in the book.

“I found a letter from Robert Kennedy to President Morison,” recalls Johnson, a Mathematical Sciences major. “That was pretty neat.”

Marrano spent much of his research time at the Waltham Museum, trying to unearth details about the property that Bentley sits on.

“I want to know, what was the land like before we moved out here?” Putney says of the days before 1968. “Dan found out information such as the name of the pond that’s next to the President’s House — Meadows Pond — and the name of the hill on which we’re located: Blue Hill.”

Building Connection

Another assignment for the students was interviewing faculty and administrators to find out more about Bentley’s background. First-person accounts have been a leading source of information for Putney.

Marrano was particularly impressed by the school’s first director of athletics, Al Shields.

“He was so insightful and knew so much about Bentley. Discussing how many of the sports grew from intramural teams to actual varsity teams was most interesting to me.”

For Johnson, the interviews and research experience were highlights of the project. He also developed a more personal connection to Bentley’s past.

“It’s nice to be able to see campus buildings and know who they’re named after,” he says. “Now I know exactly what those people put into the school.”

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