With the end of the 2022-23 academic year upon us, we would like to share some of the many accomplishments of students working with the Center for the Study of Guns and Society (CSGS) at Wesleyan University during its first full academic year.
This year, the Center offered its first three undergraduate courses at Wesleyan: Guns & Society (taught by Center Director Jennifer Tucker), God & Guns: the History of Faith & Firearms in America (taught by Center Associate Director Joseph Slaughter); and War and Society (taught by Professor of Government Peter Rutland).
In addition to their work in the classroom, students heard from powerful guest speakers and visited local sites of importance to the topics they studied, including the Greater Middletown Military Museum and Coltsville National Historic Park. In Guns & Society, students were asked to delve into an individual research topic or project. Students wrote on topics such as historical gun satire in novels, from Don Quixote to Mark Twain; visual arguments in Harpers Weekly about the role and importance of firearms in Reconstruction society; use of YouTube by gun influencers; and visual analysis of guns in Prohibition-era advertisements, among others.
For their final projects in God & Guns, students used Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to map the intersection of firearms and violence. For example, one student mapped the religious revivals of the early 19th century along with decade-by-decade maps of the growth of firearms laws, including anti-dueling laws, to show how the two were connected. Another used GIS to explore the relationship between Islamic, Christian, and Jewish houses of worship and gun violence in New York City. Many students in this course reported that they discussed what they were learning weekly with their families, and one student shared that she even discovered new ground with her grandmother on the issue of gun violence in America.
Undergraduate Research Conference
On April 28, CSGS hosted its inaugural Undergraduate Research Conference, Historical and Current Perspectives on Guns & Society, at Wesleyan University, with participation of students from Wesleyan, Yale, Brown, Amherst, and Trinity. Dozens of students presented on a diverse range of topics related to history, religion, literature, visual arts and material culture, public health and medicine, and more. Shannon Perich, curator of the Division of Science and Industry at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, delivered the headline talk on Hunting for History Through Photography in conversation with Tucker. See the complete line-up, along with photos from the event.
Research and Public Humanities Projects
Beyond conducting research in their courses, students have made meaningful contributions to other research projects through the Center.
Undergraduates from Wesleyan, Brown, and RISD have been working in collaboration with the National Park Service Coltsville Historic Park in Hartford, CT on a cross-disciplinary research and design project that will result in exhibits about the hidden gun history of New England. The project has received support from the New England Humanities Consortium (NEHC).
Students are also conducting individual and group research projects on the long history of Connecticut as a major manufacturer and promoter of weapons, including the impact on the socioeconomic development of the early Connecticut River Valley, as part of the Carceral Connecticut Project (CCP). In summer 2022, students and faculty toured Springfield Armory Historic Site (Springfield, MA), Coltsville National Historic Park (Hartford), Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop (New Haven), and the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society (Middletown), and documented sites of gun manufacturing in Middlefield, CT as part of field site research on early gun manufacturing in New England. CCP is funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation.
This summer, in a collaboration between CSGS and the Wesleyan Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC), undergraduates will contribute to several research projects to analyze firearms data from a variety of sources in order to track advancements in firearms, from innovation to use in broader society. Textual analysis of firearm patents will give insight into how various mechanisms (eg. safety features) have been adopted in guns available in the market today. In addition, analyzing gun manufacturing, deaths, and marketing data will give insight into some of the historical factors that influence the supply, demand, and beliefs around firearms.
With this strong foundation, we are excited to continue growing opportunities for student learning in the our second year of existence. [Learn more about the work of students through the Center.] We are extremely grateful for the staff and student workers who make the work of CSGC possible, including these valuable student learning experiences.
Thank you for your continued support of the Center. We hope to see you at our Fall Conference, to be held on the Wesleyan campus on October 13 and 14, 2023. Please visit the CSGS website for additional updates and information, and do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or ideas at email@example.com.
Director, Center for the Study of Guns and Society
Associate Director, Center for the Study of Guns and Society