Above the Oxbow: Sense of History at the Mount Holyoke Summit House
Danielle Raad, PhD
Curator and Assistant Director of Collections
Mount Holyoke is a locally cherished mountain in a western Massachusetts state park with sweeping views of the Connecticut River Valley below and a two-hundred-year-old Summit House perched on the top. The mountain is the subject of Dr. Raad’s current book project, Above the Oxbow: The Construction of Place on Mount Holyoke. The book is an “orogenic ethnography,” a diachronic study of place-making on a mountain achieved through a blending of ethnographic, archaeological, and historic practices. Each section explores the creation of place through engagement with a different aspect of the mountain: the view from the summit; the more-than-human environment; its history; and its materiality. This talk concentrates on the Summit House, built in the 1820s as a luxury hotel, abandoned for decades in the mid-twentieth century, and today operated as a seasonal historic house museum. Visitors in the present and recent past learn, formulate, participate in, and disseminate narratives of Mount Holyoke and the Summit House through consuming or delivering interpretation, collecting memorabilia, and preservation advocacy. An analysis of these modes of historical engagement reveals that the Summit House was better able to foster a sense of history and attachments to place as a contemporary ruin than as a renovated historic site.
488 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305