In 1988, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg became the 15th president of The George Washington University. But G. David Anderson was just named to a post that only three have held in the University’s 185-year history: University historian.
To be fair, the position isn’t nearly as old as University president, but that does not diminish the passion G. David Anderson brings in his dedication to GW’s history.
Anderson, who was appointed to the post in early January by Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman, has served the University since 1987 as University archivist. The history buff has big plans for his tenure to help promote GW’s “long and evolved history” to the GW and Foggy Bottom communities.
A chat with Anderson is like talking with a human encyclopedia of GW history who cares strongly for its preservation and recognition. Now, as University historian, Anderson is working on compiling that knowledge into an actual GW Encyclopedia to share with the community.
Anderson’s goal is to create a “growing online service” to document the people and places of GW and Foggy Bottom. The first edition will be published in the next few weeks and new articles will be added weekly, or even daily, he said. Eventually, editions will be printed annually to complement the fully searchable online database.
“If you don’t understand history, you can’t understand the present or the future,” Anderson said.
One of the questions that has arisen through the course of the encyclopedia project is how it will handle the more contentious parts of GW’s history, such as conflicts with Foggy Bottom residents, GW’s segregation until 1954 and the anti-Vietnam War protests that paralyzed the campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The University Archives has established an editorial policy and is committed to being as accurate as possible, he said. “We are not trying to change history, but we want it to be accurate,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s research focuses on the role of Greek-letter life on campus through history, the history of Foggy Bottom, women’s history on campus and the history of athletics on campus, among other areas.
While conducting research for an article about GW during the Civil War, Anderson stumbled upon journal entries from students who expressed excitement at playing baseball on campus. Anderson has concluded from these records that baseball was the first sport played on campus. Anderson has also learned that during GW’s first basketball season, the team defeated cross-town rival Georgetown University – twice.
Anderson sees no limit to how large the database could grow.
“We want to establish systems that can be carried on in the future,” Anderson said.
With his new position as historian, Anderson will continue to perform the same tasks as when he was the archivist, but will also undertake new projects. One of Anderson’s long-term goals is establishing an oral history archive containing interviews with former administrators and professors, as well as Foggy Bottom community members. Anderson has identified dozens of people in conducting recorded interviews for the archive.