Unveiling of Toni Morrison’s name on the ARH facade in the HSSC atrium Feb. 20, 2020.

Inscriptions for the Future

Telling a Story

In 1905, the Carnegie Library opened at Iowa College (which would become Grinnell College just a few years later) with 11 names inscribed into the limestone frieze just below the roofline: Caesar. Isaiah. Emerson. Shakespeare. Dante. Homer. Plato. Michelangelo. Darwin. Goethe. Galileo.

Together, these names tell a story. They construct a particular historical, social, cultural, and political story about what Andrew Carnegie, the project’s patron, referred to as human civilization. For more than a century, they remained the only names gracing the walls of our academic buildings.

Carnegie Library, Iowa College was constructed in 1904
Carnegie Library, Iowa College, 1904

In 2020, Grinnell College inscribed “Morrison” into the wall of the Humanities and Social Studies Center atrium in honor of Nobel Prize–winning Black American author Toni Morrison. It was the beginning of a process through which Grinnellians selected individuals for memorialization who reflect our deepest values and aspirations as a community.

The aim of the Inscriptions for the Future project is recuperative and celebratory. The people we honor may have been overlooked — or actively challenged — by dominant segments of societies during their lifetimes. But there is no question that they moved history. They changed systems. And they inspired others to see, experience, live, and work in the world in new ways.

The Inscriptions for the Future project marks a new chapter in the story the Grinnell College community tells about who we are and who we aspire to be, as expressed through the people we celebrate in our public spaces.

Unveiling of Toni Morrison’s name on the ARH facade in the HSSC atrium Feb. 20, 2020.
Toni Morrison's inscription in the HSSC atrium.

Writing a Story

The Inscriptions for the Future nomination and selection process is part of this story. Students, staff, faculty, and alumni all submitted nominations. Open comment periods allowed the entire community to play an active role in the selection process. Representative committees gave their time and insights to identify finalists and make final selections. Just as the project seeks to create more inclusive public spaces on campus, the nomination and selection process, unfolding over many years, illustrates the value of inclusive and collaborative decision-making, of writing a story together.

A Story for the Future

Every story reflects the time and place in which it is written. Enduring stories also contain elements that engage audiences far beyond a particular cultural moment and context, allowing people to see aspects of their own experience and gain insights into lives that are different from their own.

We hope that the Inscriptions for the Future project will continue to inspire Grinnellians to reflect on community aspirations and the diverse contributions that will bring them into being over time and that future generations will identify ways to make Grinnell’s story more inclusive, just as we have tried to do in our time and place, through Inscriptions for the Future.

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