Celebrating the history and archaeology of Brown University and Providence, Rhode Island

Category: 25 Things Blog (Page 3 of 4)

Fireworks. By Stephanie Harris

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

I decided that I would attend the cake and firework display on Friday night in order to participate in what I saw as the most anticipated event of the 250th anniversary celebration. I had assumed that I would stand somewhere on the Main Green where I could see the large University Hall cake and hear any speakers. However, when I got there, all I could see was a crowd of people. I am not one for crowds—they make me a bit anxious and I can’t stand being jostled around—so I decided to go and stand by the Bear Statue and to wait for the fireworks. While I stood there, I realized how much could be gleaned from just observing the reactions and interactions of the crowd. So, that is the perspective from which this blog post is written.

Standing just in front of the half-wall that surrounds the Bear Statue and a few yards from Faunce arch, I was able to hear and see many people’s first reactions to the Main Green as they entered. The most common exclamation I heard from folks who had just arrived was, “Where is the cake?” and “How will we get cake with so many people?” Behind me, a few children sat on their parents’ shoulders and on the Bear’s pedestal and chanted “we want fireworks, we want fireworks!” Everyone had come for their own reason. They had come to be entertained, or to be fed, or for both reasons. No one in my vicinity mentioned anything about being there for the community or to be amongst the members of Brown’s past, present and future. However, from where I stood, I saw current students, faculty members, alumni, and children all in one place for a brief moment to share in one experience from many perspectives for varied reasons.

None of us who were standing on the sidelines of the Green could hear anything that was said up on the Faunce steps, and my only view of the cake was through pictures texted to me by friends. This didn’t bother me, though. I, like the children behind me, was there for the fireworks. As the beautiful light display began, I was surprised how spectacular it truly was. I had honestly been expecting Brown to have been restricted due to budgeting, but the show proved me wrong. As I was thinking about this, a few of the people around me began to question the parts of Brown’s past and present that were being ignored and pushed under the rug by the dazzling, sparkling fire in the sky.

They wondered about where the money had come from and who had been hired for the set up and break down of the event. They wondered how Brown could convince donors to give so much to a fantastic, but in some ways superficial and gaudy, display of wealth but we had such difficulty finding sources for financial aid for students. Finally, I heard a few participants wonder if there would be an acknowledgement of the involvement of slave labor in the building of University Hall or of the exclusion of people of color in Brown’s early years.

We all came to the event for different reasons. We all had different perspectives of the presentations due, in part, to where we stood. But, in the end, we were all there to represent and to take part in the celebration of Brown’s past present and future. It is important to celebrate the aspects of Brown that make it unique and that have lead to its position as a forward-thinking university. It is also important to acknowledge that the institution that we celebrate is imperfect and has had its hand in systems and policies with questionable ethics. The voices in the crowd spoke for the imagined future of our university, for the experiences of the people who were able to be here on this day, and for the stories of people long forgotten. Whether we knew it or not, while we all gazed up at the artwork in the sky, we were bearing witness to the past, present, and future of Brown.

250th Anniversary Wind Symphony Concert . By Leah Stansky

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

On Friday, March 7th, I attended the 250th Anniversary Wind Symphony Concert in Salomon Hall. George Masso, a Rhode Island composer and jazz trombone player, composed two of the pieces played during the performance and was in the audience during the event. His presence made me ponder about how he viewed the performance of his song and if, like Walter Benjamin probably would have thought, the reproduction of his art had lost its “aura” or “authenticity.” Although Benjamin’s main focus in his article, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, is on art as objects, he does touch upon art as music by quoting Leonardo da Vinci who compares painting and music: “Painting is superior to music because, unlike unfortunate music, it does not have to die as soon as it is born…Music which is consumed in the very act of its birth is inferior to painting which the use of varnish has rendered eternal” (Benjamin 250). By quoting da Vinci, I presume that Benjamin has similar beliefs, but I doubt George Masso would have and I do not either. Although music isn’t a physical being like objects are, this does not mean it “dies as soon as it is born.” In fact, I believe it is just the opposite: music can be born at any time through singing or musical devices, but objects can be destroyed through force. Moreover, I believe music has more of an “eternal” intention than most art objects because part of the actual intent of music is for it to be replayed: whether by the actual composer at concerts, by other musicians, or even (in today’s day) remixed by DJ’s. Benjamin argues that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin 220). However, music is the one art form that defies this notion because the element of time and space exists when a song is being played, regardless of whether it is played by the creator or not. I would have loved to talk to Mr. Masso himself about his reaction to the performance as well as his opinion on music reproduction, but I just had to scurry out of Salomon at the end to grab a last slice of cake!

Objects in the Context of Brown University’s History. By Emily Spinner

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

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Throughout the semester, the readings that have interested me the most have been those focused on discussing agency; specifically, the tension between objects and humans and gifts and commodities. Therefore, I decided to visit the exhibit in Manning Hall, which housed an exhibit containing various iconic pieces of Brown University’s history. The first and second photos are classified as academic regalia, which “symbolize both social and academic distinctions. Worn in academia’s most important ceremonies, regalia indicates differences of rank, accomplishment, and affiliation. At the same time, it cloaks individuality to refer to an egalitarian ideal. The meanings of gowns, hoods, and caps are governed by codes standardized at the turn of the 20th century.”[1] In normal circumstances, I would argue that in most cases, it is the human who acts as the agent and influences the object. However, the academic gowns on display in Manning Hall made me reconsider. The design, material, and situation in which they are used have been the same for many many years, and though the people clad in these robes have undoubtedly changed, the meaning of the robes has hold steady through time. As Gell describes in Gosden’s article, “The Cultural Biography of Objects,” object can be seen as “social actors, in that they construct and influence the field of social action in ways which would not occur if they did not exist.”[2] In this way, the robes can be seen as the social actors because they influence specific academic ceremonies that have stood the test of time. The individuals who wear these robes earn them – they embody the specific qualities of a leader and rise to the top of the academic hierarchy. Therefore, it can be argued that it is the robes that provide meaning to an academic ceremony, not the people in them.

Though the display in Manning Hall exhibited many Brown University treasures, the academic robes stood out to me because I will soon be seeing them at graduation. In other words, the sight of the robes triggered something inside me – it acted as the catalyst to my sadness. In this case, the object undoubtedly acted as the agent, and I a simple bystander.


[1] Description of object in Manning Hall

[2] Chris Gosden and Yvonne Marshall, “The Cultural Biography of Objects, 173.

Brown University’s 250th anniversary weekend kicked off with a fun-filled Friday night of activities. By Keillor Irving

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

keillor            Beginning the night was a campus reception and film (created by Brown alumna) entitled “The Brown Difference”. The film showcased not only Brown’s history, but also the various aspect of the modern university. Various faculty and alumni were interviewed, each of them discussing what Brown University and the “Brown difference” meant to them and how it helped shape their lives and the world. The film also showed the different elements of student life on campus, from athletics to acapella to lounging on the steps of Faunce Arch. It was an engaging and entertaining film for all, wether they be student, alumni, or not attend the University at all.

After the film there was some spare time before the cutting of the cake. In the meantime I visited the Haffenreffer Museum, which was open to the public, showcasing items from Brown’s history in celebration of its 250th anniversary. The Haffenreffer had ceremonial objects of the University (such as professor’s graduation dress) as well as other objects that represented the University. In one corner, there was even a pair of bear statues, one large and one small (I’m assuming mother and cub bears).

At this point the building had to be evacuated in preparation for the fireworks. Everyone gathered on the main green in front of Faunce for the cake-cutting ceremony. President Paxson welcomed everyone to the weekend and spoke about Brown, its history and its future. Various members of Rhode Island’s political scene spoke about Brown, and then a group of students recited a poem highlighting Brown’s role in pioneering diversity and rights. The University’s chaplain, Reverand Janet Cooper Nelson, then delivered a prayer for Brown in 250 syllables. President Paxson closed the speeches by declaring Brown the “Ivy League champion of fun”, and then proceeded to cut the cake while the fireworks began.

The fireworks were definitely the highlight of the evening’s events. It wasn’t terribly cold out, so the fireworks were enjoyable. The entire main green was filled with people, from Faunce Arch all the way to the fence at the other end of the green, which made for a great atmosphere. There were many different types of fireworks exploding above College Hill (all cool), but the most exciting part of the show was the ignition of “250+” in sparklers on the front of University Hall. The fireworks were an impressive display, although I wondered how high the risk of University Hall catching fire was. Overall it was a very entertaining and enjoyable evening, the perfect way to begin Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration.

Cake and Fireworks. By Valerie Langberg

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Pastlangberg langberg2

I went to the cake and firework ceremony Friday night, and it was a lot of fun!  My friends and I arrived just before 6:30 and at first we were waiting just outside of Sayles, hoping to meet up with a few other people.  We couldn’t see or hear from there, so after a few minutes we decided to make our way closer to Faunce.  The main green was incredibly muddy and icy, but we managed to make our way through the crowd in order to be close enough where we could at least see the stage.  The cake looked amazing, and President Paxon was talking about something that we couldn’t understand.  Surprisingly, we found a few other friends and all huddled together for warmth.  By this point, a few students were up on stage speaking.  We couldn’t really tell wheat they were saying, but every now and then one of them would get really loud and emotional.  I thought they were trying to get the crowd riled up and excited about something, but apparently it was spoken-word poetry.  I really wish we could have heard them better, because I’ve been to poetry slams at Brown before and everyone there was super talented!  Sadly, I couldn’t hear anything from where I was so my friends and I just watched the people dancing in the windows of Faunce and joked about how cold it was.  Finally, the band started playing and Paxon cut the cake.  My group of friends burst out into “Happy Birthday,” but it didn’t catch on with the rest of the crowd.  Then it was time for fireworks!  That display was amazing.  The colors were great and there was a nice variety of style.  The giant 250 on the side of University Hall was super cool, and it was hilarious to see all the phones and cameras immediately go up over people’s heads to get pictures.  Most people dispersed pretty quickly after the finale, but two of my roommates and I decided we needed cake.  Again, we worked our way through the crowd toward the stage.  A few scattered people around us were holding plates of red velvet cake and it looked delicious.  We also hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so we were determined to succeed in our adventure.  And it was such an adventure.  Every time one of the waiters came down off the stage with another tray of servings, the crowd would cheer and wave to get them to bring the cake to their section.  It was clear the caterers were having a great time watching us push and scramble for a tiny piece of mass-produced cake.  At one point, one of my roommates tried to give up.  She declared that it wasn’t worth the wait and she was going to leave.  She turned around and saw a wall of hungry students behind her with absolutely no path to the back of the crowd.  My roommate and I started laughing because we knew she was stuck with us.  After about thirty or forty minutes we got to the front and grabbed some cake.  Getting out of the crowd was fun, because we had to convince people to make a path while trying not to drop the cake, the fork, or the entire plate.  We enjoyed our victory on the steps of Sayles.  It was surprisingly tasty for what it was!  As we finished up we noticed Bruno taking pictures with students, and we realized none of us had ever gotten pictures with him.  Naturally, this was the perfect opportunity.  We threw out our plates and forks and entered yet another crowd of excited students waiting to get a picture.  Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long for our turn.  As we left the main green, we discussed how strange it is to be seniors at such an old school.  We also talked about how lucky we are that during our time at Brown we got to experience both the changing of the presidency and a milestone birthday.  All around it was a great event!

Tools for overcoming tolerance. By Connor Grealy

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

As part of the kickoff for the celebration of its semi-quincentennial (yes, that’s 250th) celebration, Brown University invited back a number of its famous alumni to discuss their professions, worldviews, and experiences as undergrads. One of these distinguished alumni was Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez ’83, who delivered the keynote address for the Opening Celebration. In addition to Perez’s academic achievements – a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government – he served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under then-Attorney General Janet Reno, worked for Senator Ted Kennedy and also served as Assistant Attorney General. Perez has a unique background for the Secretary of Labor as many of the previous secretaries have experience as economists as opposed to Perez’s primary field of expertise, civil rights law.

His unique pathway to President Obama’s cabinet, as he explained, was underscored by a desire to improve the situation of the every day American, a position supported by his recent efforts to increase the federal minimum wage and improve the growing income disparity in the United States. Perez alluded to his own upbringing in Buffalo, NY, where he was the youngest of five children and was raised by a single mother and his siblings after the age of 12 in the context of improving American’s lives. Speaking about his friend’s father, who served as a type of surrogate father, the Secretary of Labor reflected on the difficulty of seeing his role model, a man who had not attained his high school diploma, contend with rising costs of living and contending with the difficulties of life for many ‘working poor’ Americans. Perez, referencing meetings with the executives of companies like Costco, Boeing and Gap and the rhetoric of Henry Ford, asserted that lifting Americans from the situation of that of his surrogate father is an economically and morally sound decision. He said that people should not have to choose between medicine for their children or paying the utilities, and supported his belief that it is his duty to ensure that Americans do not have to make these unsolvable decisions.

I was fortunate enough to also see Secretary Perez in a more intimate setting as he spoke to a small group following his keynote address. His engaging manner and extreme passion for improving the lot of all Americans was even more tangible in the close quarters of the room.  Perez referenced an email exchange with Katherine Hackett, a woman from Connecticut who counted herself as one of 3.9 million long-term unemployed Americans and recently introduced President Obama at the White House, in describing how the emotive and stories of other Americans inspires him every day in his job. For the Secretary of Labor to keep a single email exchange with him shows that Perez truly and deeply cares about the plight of every single American. He referred to toleration as something that one had for ‘brussel sprouts’, not for the unenviable situation of many Americans today. Perez credited his Brown education, as for all Brown graduates, as a tool to make a difference in the world and rise above just tolerating the injustices and inequalities that currently exist. As Mrs. Hackett also wrote about her long-standing search for a job, “keep seeking the small victories” as these will lead to the larger changes that you seek in the world.

250 Years? By David Caianiello

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

In true Brown fashion, setup for this weekend’s festivities began well in advance. Around 5 PM on Wednesday an oversized crane was present in front of University Hall on the Main Green, lifting 40-foot scaffolds that would support the brown awning over the main stage. I can’t help but wonder how past milestones were celebrated – was there this much setup involved in celebrating the 200th? Was student life on campus anywhere near as vibrant and varied as it is now?

 The short answer is, undoubtedly, no. In 1964 Pembroke was a separate entity and student groups numbered in the tens, not in the hundreds. The performance spaces required for this weekend (which include most, if not all, of the major venues on campus) could have comfortably housed the entire Brown community.
[Please note: as I wrote this, I assumed the setup was for the stage that usually is placed on the Main Green during events – it turns out it was the scaffolding for the 250th fireworks display. I do, however, think this observation is important.] As seemingly silly as the pomp surrounding University events is, there is a significance to using the same stage again and again for momentous occasions. At a certain level, the stage – with its brown footers, red tent, and familiar Brown seal adoring the top – is only a backdrop. Whether the orchestra at campus dance or an honorary doctorate being awarded, the stage takes a backseat to the spectacle it houses. It has become a familiar backdrop for campus photos, and often goes unnoticed. It is interesting to think, however, about its use for President Paxson’s inauguration last year. The event was not as universally awaited as Commencement  – but its use gave the occasion a weight that signified her installation as president. The use of the stage cemented her newfound authority, and her position as a new ceremonial figurehead for the University. I wonder if the event would have felt differently if they had erected her podium on the steps of Faunce.
This is, however, off the intended topic – during the setup, the Brown band filed onto the Main Green from the Quiet Green and began to play fight songs and some of their normal repertoire (Time Warp, Paul Simon, etc). They stood between Manning and University for about 30 minutes before making their way quietly off the green. I don’t, in fact, know where the band was going or why they had started on the quiet green. I do, however, know that it was cold enough outside that all walked briskly by and that there were no athletics scheduled for the day. It seems that the band came to play solely for the workers bringing the 250th ceremony to life.
As someone who used to be a part of a marching band, I realize how miserable it is to play in freezing temperatures. Yet many members of the Brown Band showed up on the Green with the sole purpose of giving the staff who erected the stage something to whistle along to. I’m not entirely sure what this says about our University as a whole; maybe I am incorrectly interpreting the Band’s stop on the Green. I like to think that this small act of kindness is distinctive of Brown and that we can realize and appreciate the work that goes into our spectacles. This reflection is distinctive of our community and came to life today during setup.

Cake and Fireworks at Brown’s 250th Anniversary Celebration. By Nicole Chen.

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

chen2 chen1

Tonight marked the start of a year of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Brown University. The main green – where generations of late students have run across to class, where hundreds of Blue Room muffins have been eaten, where thousands of students have danced during Spring Weekend – was filled with current students, alumni and their families, and RI families, all eager for the festivities to begin.

On the stage sat a 600 pound, 5 feet by 3 feet, and just under 3 feet high cake meant to serve more than 1,000 people. To say the least, the cake was impressing. Detailed to the last 100th  window, the cake resembled Brown’s first building, University Hall, and the famous Van Wickle gates. An article by the Providence Journal claimed it to be “one of the largest cakes that has ever been made,” amounting to over 200 man-hours to put it together.[1] The cake appeared almost unreal, like a plastic replica of University Hall. I felt as if I could almost see or imagine myself as a miniature student walking through the gates up to University Hall! After several short speeches about the history and future of Brown, including one from the adorable Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson who started the night with a prayer exactly 250 words in length, the cake was finally cut by President Christina Paxson.

A couple minutes after the cutting of the cake, University Hall became illuminated with fireworks. Matching the tune of Brown’s fight song, “Ever True to Brown” from the Brown band, the fireworks show was one of the most moving and in sync fireworks show that I have seen. Not only were the fireworks themselves remarkable, but having the fireworks on top of and behind University Hall personalized the celebration and brought it home to Brown’s campus. The show was capped off with small sparklers outlining a “250+” on the front of University Hall. This truly was a celebration of Brown, its history, its legacy, and the promise of its future.

Although the 250th anniversary cake and fireworks were certainly impressive and surprising, one has to wonder about the financial cost of these events. As the Providence Journal quotes Oakleaf, the cake maker, “’There are (wedding cakes for heads of state that are in the two-thousand serving range, but as far as I know, cake sculpture-wise, to have over a thousand servings is incredibly rare, just because it’s incredibly expensive.’ Price tag — confidential.”1 Walking away from the main green after the event, a student was also overheard saying to a friend, “Well, we just lost so much financial aid.” While celebration is definitely called for, the expense may not have been the most practical use of Brown’s dollars.

Tonight, Brown displayed an unprecedented and extraordinary show that marked the beginning of a year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary. While many students were skeptical at first about Brown’s ability to put on fireworks and a 1000+ cake, many would agree that the celebration of Brown’s history was, in fact, truly captured tonight. Price, however, doesn’t appear to be a factor, in the planning of Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration.


[1] “LOCAL NEWS.” Brown’s Sculpted 250th Anniversary Cake for 2,500 a Giant Undertaking / Video. Providence Journal, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

Fireworks display. By Nick Fascitelli

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

On Friday evening I attended the 250th anniversary celebration on the main green that culminated with a grandiose firework display. The gathering was the first of many celebrations over the weekend honoring the anniversary and it turned into a massive affair. I arrived at the event shortly before President Paxson began to speak. I was not able to hear what she was saying unfortunately as I was not close enough to the stage but there was a loud roar when she declared Brown “the Ivy League champion of fun”. At the time it was a medium sized gathering but nothing exceptional. Every minute though it seemed more and more people started to fill in, and before I knew it I looked back and college green was completely packed. People were filling college green from every direction in anticipation of the firework display. After President Paxson finished speaking we were treated to a prayer by the University Chaplain, remarks from politicians and board members, and finally a word poem from a student group.  My main critique of the event lies here as standing in the crowd I was unable to hear anything that was being said on stage. Speaking to many of my fellow students who were at the event they were similarly annoyed and perplexed. Given all the preparation that went into setting up the event, one would think they would make sure to have a sound system that enabled attendees to hear sufficiently. Ultimately, all of the proceedings besides the firework display were impractical and irrelevant without being able to hear. One of the coolest features of the night was the cake the university had made for the event. The majestic cake, a model of University Hall, was 650 pounds and an astonishing 1,400 pieces (somehow I still didn’t get one!). The fireworks were the main reason most people attended the event and they did not disappoint. The pyrotechnics display was grand, spanning about five full minutes and leaving one thinking they were at a New Years party at a hotel rather than at a university party. On the side of the Stephen Roberts Center a display appeared in blazing white flames spelling out “250+”. As the fireworks spewed from the roof of the center, the fireworks illuminated the whole green. I have seen many large firework displays but left extremely impressed by what I had seen. The overcast sky and chilly weather gave the fireworks a different, more unique feel than previous pyrotechnic displays I had seen. The finale was grand, culminating with the “250+” appearing again but this time in gold flames. All in all I thought it was a nice event and a good precursor to start off the celebratory weekend by the university. People who attended the event seemed to genuinely to enjoy it and left with smiles on their faces. I was only able to attend one other event all weekend unfortunately, but many other students who I spoke with who attended many of the weekend’s events said the firework display was their highlight.

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