By Harry Yadav
Chris Nugent, the director of the Pew Learning Center at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, delivered the inaugural Tom Watson Lecture on Wednesday, September 21 in the Torian Room of duPont Library. The event was sponsored and created by the Friends of the Library in honor and commemoration of Watson, its founder, who passed away in December at the age of 77.
Nugent’s lecture was entitled “Remembering, Reflecting, Reckoning: German Women and the Long Shadow of Socialism.” The lecture presented research that Nugent collected from oral history interviews of 29 non-Jewish German women over a six-month period in Hamburg, Germany, 19 of whom participated in the Nazi Hitler Youth and 10 of whom had mothers who did so. There were six mother-daughter pairs and three pairs of sisters among her interviewees. All women were interviewed separately. Nugent added that being a member of the first German successor generation herself provided extra motivation to pursue the research.
“My motivation springs from my desire to understand, giving women a voice to speak for themselves. Please note that understanding is not relativizing or condoning,” she said.
One of the topics Nugent hoped to explore was how women who participated in Hitler Youth transmitted their memories to their daughters and how, in turn, “their daughters process and live with the Nazi legacy.” She found again and again that the women who had been in the Hitler Youth found their voices muted because they tended to paint themselves as apolitical. “These women found that the result of this was that neither their daughters nor their husbands took them seriously as political beings,” said Nugent.
Nugent’s focus on women stems from her findings that relatively little research has been conducted on the experiences of non-Jewish German women in World War II. Some of her interviewees told Nugent that she was the first to ask them about their experiences.
Nugent was also a mentee of Watson’s as part of a library-mentoring program in the ‘90s.
“I was very pleased that they asked Ms. Nugent to do this lecture because she was one of his protégés. He certainly would have been very proud of her and the research she has done,” said Watson’s widow Gail, who attended the event.
Before she began her lecture, Nugent addressed Watson’s influence on her career. “Tom played an important part in my professional life when I was just a fledgling librarian. Through weekly phone calls, he taught me how to answer my own questions, which was invaluable,” she said.
In addition to serving as Vice President of University Relations, Watson served as University Librarian from 1976-81 and 1994-2004. His legacy includes working on a task force to develop a digital database for the Associated Colleges of the South and contributing in countless ways to the Sewanee and Monteagle communities by participating or serving in the Sewanee EQB club, the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club, the Friends of the Library, and the Sewanee Civic Association.
Interim Director of Library Services Penny Cowan, who worked for Watson during his second stint as University Librarian, says that he was “one of the best leaders” she has ever seen. “He was incredibly forward thinking, because when he began, there weren’t even computers or email, but he acquired the funding for us to create our first online library catalogue,” she added.
The next Friends of the Library event will be held on Thursday, October 6. The Friends of the Library and the University Archives and Special Collections will co-sponsor “Communal Spirit: 3000 Years of Mexican Artistry,” which will feature a curator’s talk with Stephen Vollmer, a specialist in Mexican and Spanish colonial folk art. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m. in the University Archives building.