The Oberlin Stories Project

On a full-fledged learning experience

Reid Palmer ’14

“No matter our individual passions, Oberlin provides us the opportunity to do what we love while connecting us with peers and professors that broaden our perspectives and help us make connections.”

Reid and a friend at Memorial Arch.

The first time I visited Oberlin I knew that I’d found my place. I’ve been fascinated by World War II since I was 10 and hoped to pursue this passion for history in college. Between the Oberlin history department’s excellent reputation and the fact that it offered more than three classes on the Second World War, I believed that it would be a place where I could specialize in the things I loved. However, I had no idea what was in store for me.

Although I have certainly “found” history here, I could never have guessed where my obsession would lead me. I came to Oberlin with a fairly narrow selection of academic interests. Oberlin, however, is set up to encourage you to expand your worldview.

In the spring of my first year, I saw a poster for a documentary called Hollywood contra Franco, which included a Q&A with the director. I arrived early and began talking with a professor named Sebastiaan Faber, who teaches many courses about the Spanish Civil War in the Hispanic studies department. Between this conversation and the film, I grew interested in this unusual conflict. I began stopping by Mr. Faber’s office to chat about the Spanish Civil War whenever I could. While I had never taken a class with him, he recognized my passion and hired me to write blogs on the Spanish Civil War for an organization called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA). Through ALBA, I’ve talked to some of the leaders in the field, a truly remarkable opportunity for an undergraduate.

Other professors encouraged me to explore not only nontraditional histories but also history in nontraditional ways. For the final paper of my first year seminar, The Literature of War, Resistance, and Reconciliation, I wrote a paper comparing The Iliad< to 20th- and 21st-century war comics. This inspired a deep love of graphic narratives. Oberlin brings in a surprising number of graphic novelists, allowing me to shake hands with Lynda Barry, have books signed by Alison Bechdel (Oberlin Class of 1981), and listen to Josh Neufeld (Oberlin Class of 1989) discuss this medium with three other renowned graphic novelists.

I’ve also met most of my best friends at Oberlin through my passion for history. As an incoming student, I marked down that I hoped to be a history major and during orientation was assigned to Professor Len Smith’s advising group. When I arrived for the first meeting, I noticed that one of the other students, Ryan, was not only wearing a fez, but was equally passionate about history. Ryan and I quickly became friends and have stuck together ever since. As first years, we spent hours comparing the peripheral wars of the Soviet Union and the Roman Empire in the halls of North. As second years, other friends often found us in Barnard lounge, discussing how Babar can be read as a metaphor for French colonialism. As third years, we frequently swapped stories from his class on erotic Greek literature and my class on genocides in modern Eurasia during late-night study sessions in Azariah’s.

It’s in these classes, events, and conversations that I realize what Oberlin is truly about. No matter our individual passions, Oberlin provides us the opportunity to do what we love while connecting us with peers and professors that broaden our perspectives and help us make connections. Indeed, Oberlin is full of interesting people who have a lot to offer. While you are encouraged to pursue your passions, the unusual classes, random events, and new people you meet will undoubtedly change the way you think about the world.