The Center for the Study of Guns and Society (CSGS) at Wesleyan University is, to our knowledge, the first academic center in the U.S. dedicated to interdisciplinary humanities study and teaching on the social and cultural history of firearms. Established in April 2022, the center is a hub for pioneering interdisciplinary research on a wide variety of topics in firearms history, including the technologies, manufacture, possession, and use of firearms; the social and cultural underpinnings of gun ownership; and the tolerance of high levels of gun violence in the U.S. relative to other countries. The center promotes academic reflection on the role history plays in making categories of contemporary debate around guns appear inevitable, natural, or culturally necessary, and supports scholarship and pedagogies that uncover hidden conflicts and contexts as a means of better understanding contemporary phenomena.
The center supports:
- An annual conference for professional historians
- An annual convening of local museum professionals
- Student research internships
- Ongoing collaborations with and outreach to other educational institutions, museums, schools, and the general public.
The center is also a national nucleus for pioneering and disseminating innovative models of undergraduate teaching on firearms, through the design and implementation of new types of classes and labs. We will make publicly available curricula and teaching resources.
The center’s major initiatives include:
- Advancing academic and museum collaborations
- Researching historical lethality of firearms
- Exploring relationships between guns and film
For over half a century, Wesleyan has fostered important scholarship and discussions on guns and society. Richard Slotkin, author of an award-winning trilogy of scholarly books on the myth of the frontier in American cultural history, began teaching at Wesleyan in 1966. He went on to develop and, for more than 20 years, directed the American Studies Program at Wesleyan.
Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Wesleyan—only 25 miles from Newtown, Conn.—convened the first town hall meeting in Connecticut focused on gun research. It was organized by center director Jennifer Tucker, then interim director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and moderated by local journalist John Dankosky.
In 2016, Wesleyan, Stanford University, and the Aspen Institute co-hosted in Washington, D.C. the first-ever gathering of historians, legal scholars, museum curators, and other experts for a conference on “Firearms and the Common Law Tradition.”
In 2017, the annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan focused on the theme “Guns in American Society.” An audience of scholars, students, alumni, and experts gathered for two days to examine current debates about the role of guns in American history, society, law, and politics.
Wesleyan continues to be a hub for research, teaching, and pedagogical innovation on topics related to guns and society. Beginning in 2022, the Carceral Connecticut Project—an interdisciplinary, humanistic exploration of the state’s complex history supported by a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation—includes courses and research related to the manufacture, culture, and legal questions around firearms. Tucker will lead a year-long digital storytelling and exhibition project with Coltsville National Historic Park (Hartford, Conn.), that will take students to the Colt forge and foundry sheds where they will undertake work on field sites, engage in library research, and meet with historians, curators, and digital media specialists for “design sprint” discussions.
The Center is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization.