Section: Features

Kenyon historian puts a personal Stamp on College records

Kenyon historian puts a personal Stamp on College records

by Claire Oxford

One of the only occupied offices in Bexley Hall is piled high with documents and historical items from Kenyon’s past; this space is the dominion of Thomas Stamp ’73, College historian and keeper of Kenyoniana (all things related to Kenyon) who invented the title for himself after working at Princeton University for a time and hearing about a keeper of Princetoniana.

While Stamp said he was exposed to history from childhood on, with his father and one of his grandfathers passing down local Pittsburgh and family history, he didn’t fully realize his interest in unearthing the past until he worked in Kenyon’s archives as a student at the College. “One of my student jobs was working with Tom Greenslade the elder, … the College archivist at the time,” he said. “I became very interested in Kenyon history thanks to [him. He was] really my mentor in a lot of ways.”

While at Kenyon, Stamp majored in English, and didn’t really consider history as a major. “I guess because my high school history teachers were so bad, I didn’t even consider majoring in it in college, and in fact I didn’t take a history class here until my senior year,” he said, “and then I loved it but it was far too late to major.”

After graduating Kenyon, Stamp attended graduate school and earned his Master of Arts from Northwestern University. Shortly after graduate school, he worked in communications for Princeton for seven years, then was offered the position of Director of Public Affairs at Kenyon. After holding several other positions, Stamp was able to propose the “Keeper of Kenyoniana” position to the Board of Trustees.

Stamp’s position is multifaceted. “He’s kind of the guardian of the history of the place that nobody else has bothered to write down,” Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff said. Stamp researches Kenyon’s history, answers questions about it, leads tours of the campus for students and visitors alike and gives at least two public presentations each year on historical topics of his choice.

Stamp also spends a large chunk of his work day writing. “I make a point of putting everything I’ve learned about Kenyon history down on paper so that there’s a record of it … because one of my long-term projects is to write a complete history of the College, beginning with its founding in 1824,” he said. “The goal is to have it just before the College’s bicentennial in 2024.” Another major writing project Stamp has been working on is the Kenyon Companion, which in his words is “sort of a College history in encyclopedia form.”

Another of Stamp’s more engaging roles on campus is as an historical tour guide, taking visitors interested in history on a two-hour trek through Kenyon’s rich past and architecture. “[Kenyon has] played an important role in a lot of American educational history and also, through its alumni, American history in general,” Stamp said. “Especially around the time of Civil War there were many Kenyon men involved with politics at the time and involved with the war. Good friends of Lincoln were from Kenyon.”

While remarkable alumni have left their mark on the College’s history books, Stamp said he is especially fascinated by the stories embedded in the campus architecture and Kenyoniana. He is particularly fond of Peirce Hall. During its dedication, Kenyon’s President William Foster Peirce said it would be the last building Kenyon would ever need, acording to Stamp.  “He normally had more foresight than that, but for a while it looked like Kenyon might never be able to build another structure because of the Great Depression,” Stamp said.

As the keeper of Kenyoniana, Stamp has also been amassing “new things all the time, new old things,” he said. Some notable objects he’s collected have been former Kenyon President William Foster Peirce’s desk, College founder Philander Chase’s bed, and early graduate Alfred Blake’s, Class of 1829, glasses. “When I went down to meet the [Blake] family and see the pieces they were offering for sale they showed me [the glasses] and insisted that I try them on,” he said. “And I said, you know, I won’t be able to see through these, I have a very complex prescription — [but I could] see perfectly.”

Stamp also teaches the occasional course on history of architecture or history of education. For instance, his seminar from last year, The History of American College and University Architecture and Planning, was a favorite among his former students. In addition to organizing class trips around campus, to spots such as the top of Peirce Tower, he still found time to invite students to his home. “One of our last seminars he made us dinner,” Sarabeth Domal ’15 said. “It was honestly one of the best times I’ve ever had. We went up to his house … and he made like two different types of lasagna, a salad and an entire cheesecake … and then had class in his really awesome living room, which is covered in books.”

“He’s kind of one of the best kept secrets,” former Stamp student and Collgian staff writer Ben Payner ’15 said, “because he’s not an advisor, he’s not interacting with tons of students everyday …  but I think everyone would benefit from taking his class or talking with him.”

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