Preston Lecture Addresses “Community”

How do photographs of Minnesota relate to the idea of community? They help demonstrate how the definition of community has changed throughout the past century.

On February 27, Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, chair and professor of interdisciplinary studies and coordinator of American Studies at Salem State University, delivered the annual Preston Lecture. Her speech, entitled “Community? – Lessons from the Past for the Times We Live In,” argued that America’s concept of community continues to change and evolve throughout time.

The presentation began with an activity in which students wrote down what community looks like to them. After the presentation, she asked students to revisit their responses and ask themselves if they would change their answers. 

Dr. Duclos-Orsello urged students to consider the role of the word “community” in their own lives. She said, “Are you talking about community and using it rhetorically in a way that allows you to be comfortable, but maybe isn’t comfortable for everyone else?” Emily Beutner ’22, who attended the lecture, said, “The Preston Lecture forced me to realize that community does not always mean inclusivity because of people’s biases.”

Throughout the lecture, Dr. Duclos-Orsello engaged the audience with an interactive presentation. In one slide, she asked students to consider how different images resonated with their sense of community. Dr. Duclos-Orsello also displayed historical photographs from early 20th century Saint Paul, Minnesota to support her argument.

Dr. Duclos-Orsello said, “If there’s anything I hope I did tonight, it’s what I call ‘ruining you for life,’ which is that something that I said tonight up-ended something you thought previously.”

Individuals in the community, including Dr. Duclos-Orsello, felt that the topic was timely due to increases in the usage of the word “community.” After the lecture, Dr. Duclos-Orsello said, “Community is a word that gets thrown around a lot today. But, as the lecture discussed, the concept is ever-changing. How Americans use the term today is not how they used it one hundred years ago. Tracking this historical progression [will] help us know how we got to where we are, and, more importantly, how to get to where we want to be.”

The Humanities and Social Sciences department chooses the speaker for the Preston Lecture. This year’s speaker is the sibling of Dr. Joshua Duclos, instructor in humanities & social sciences. The Preston family’s endowment of the Preston Speaker’s Fund allows the Humanities and Social Sciences department to continue to invite speakers to discuss western history annually. 

Those intrigued by her talk can dive deeper into the topic by checking out her newest book, Modern Bonds, which expands on the topic of the presentation by examining the creation of community in urban America during the early 20th century and society today.  The book is available in the Edsel Ford Memorial Library’s collection.