Preserving ‘Bowdoin Stories’ for the Future

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The Media Commons student-help desk. Photo by Talia Cowen ’16

“My name is Hugh Cipparone, and I am a first year. I am 18.” So begins the first archived interview in the new Bowdoin Stories, a digital repository of oral interviews. “I am being interviewed by Talia Cowen,” Cipparone continued, “and we’re strangers at this point. So, yeah.”

Cipparone goes on to answer a handful of Cowen’s personal questions. He tells her about his imaginary childhood friend (a gigantic worm). He describes his Connecticut hometown (“homogenous…small, white, and rich”) and his middle school (where the majority of students were Hispanic). He wanted to be a military historian when he was in grade school. Now, though, his “dream job would be performing in shows.”

Cowen and Dean of First-year Students Janet Lohmann launched Bowdoin Stories this year to collect short interviews between students. They are encouraging two friends, acquaintances, or even strangers to stop by the Media Commons in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library to pick up a kit that comes with an audio recorder and some question prompts.

Seniors Zachary Watson and Ivette Pala conduct an interview. Photo by Talia Cowen ’16

These prompts include, Is there a story behind your first name?, How did you feel sleeping in the field house on the first night of college?, and, Tell me one important life lesson you’ve learned. Students are also encouraged to come with their own questions. Once the interview is done and reviewed by the dean’s office, it’s added to the Bowdoin Digital Commons.

Lohmann said Bowdoin Stories is about reinforcing connections on campus through storytelling. “People’s stories make up this community,” she said. “We learn from each other through our stories.”

Last summer, Lohmann asked Cowen to help her set up the project, an endeavor that neatly aligned with Cowen’s interests in radio journalism and podcasting. With a group of students, she has been putting out a new Bowdoin podcast, The Commons, about students.

Cowen said she believes Bowdoin Stories can serve both present and future students. “There’s value for the current student, who can reflect on their time at Bowdoin and who they are at Bowdoin,” she said, and there is value for future students who might be curious about those who preceded them.

Cowen herself has tried to track down clues to bygone Bowdoin students, with some difficulty. When she first arrived at Bowdoin, she tried to find places here where she felt connected to her uncle and grandfather, who both graduated from Bowdoin. But because the the campus had changed to much from their eras—the late ’50s and mid ’80s—she rarely felt she was treading the same ground. “It’s hard to access the past,” she said.

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