Past in the Present

New university project engages students, faculty, staff, and alumni to uncover gems from Johns Hopkins’ rich history.

By Mary K Zajac

So you think you know Johns Hopkins. You’ve walked across the Homewood campus countless times, perhaps enrolled in a class at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, attended a concert at the Peabody Conservatory, taken your kids to the Spring Fair. But how much do you really know about the institution?

Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels decided that he wanted to know more. In the spring of 2013, he initiated Hopkins Retrospective, a multiyear, institutional history project that pulls together divisions, departments, faculty, and students to examine and uncover the rich history of Johns Hopkins.

“In our founding, we defined the model of the American research university, now emulated around the globe,” says Daniels. “Yet, there is still more to uncover about how the elements of our one university coalesced and evolved, shaped by and influencing the events and discoveries of the past 138 years. I am excited to embark on the Hopkins Retrospective, an initiative to expand our understanding of the history of Hopkins and weave that history into the university experience.” The project will be guided by program manager Jenny Kinniff, a staff member of the Sheridan Libraries and University Museums. The Hopkins Retrospective website was launched in October.

Finding Humility in History

Stuart “Bill” Leslie, a professor in the Department of History of Science and Technology, discusses his ongoing effort to write on a new institution wide history of Johns Hopkins.

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Faculty, staff, and students from the Krieger School play a central part in Hopkins Retrospective. The centerpiece of the project is a new history of the institution being written by history of science Professor (and 33-year veteran of JHU) Stuart “Bill” Leslie (see p. 15). Leslie also teaches Building Hopkins, a class where students investigate aspects of the Homewood campus, from the unexpected (the Morton Blaustein rocks outside Olin Hall, Ira Remsen’s ashes entombed in his eponymous hall) to the classic (Gilman Hall, Homewood Field, the Greenhouse), creating digital archives to house their findings. A similar project was undertaken by students in Interpreting Collections, a class taught by Beth Maloney, a lecturer in the Program in Museums and Society. Maloney’s students planned and created signage commemorating historical sites at Homewood, some of which, like the Botanic Gardens (now the President’s garden) or Wyman Park Villa (now the site of Garland Hall), no longer exist. Students researched and wrote the text for the signs and collaborated on their design with students from the Maryland Institute College of Art. In Archiving Student Life, another Hopkins Retrospective project, undergraduates worked with archivists at the Sheridan Libraries to evaluate and build the project’s student life collection.

The Hopkins Retrospective project has begun to collect memories and memorabilia from alumni, faculty, staff, and the Baltimore community. Have a Hopkins-related story you would like to share? Contact and lend your voice to our storied history.

To see more blasts from the past and to learn details about the Hopkins Retrospective project, visit