In colonial Virginia, few things mattered more among wealthy freemen than hospitality. Guests were to be fed, lodged, and entertained when they called upon a house. Colonists did not offer up such treats solely out of obligation, but out of a desire to build close-knit communities in a complicated and fractured world. Those who voyaged across an ocean to settle in Virginia marveled at how quickly they could integrate into this society.
Coming to Drury as a first-year faculty member bears little resemblance to a transatlantic crossing, but the adjustments to a new location and position can be equally challenging. The banal foundations of everyday life that anchor one’s daily routine suddenly vanish. Confronting a new home, new office, new supermarket, new coffee shop, new barber, new everything in Springfield forced me to slip out of the comfortable automation with which I pleasantly went about my normal tasks. Sanctuary and security are difficult to find when nothing is familiar.
No doubt most of the freshmen in my introduction to U.S. history course felt the same way last fall as we introduced ourselves to one another. But they likely discovered what I did within days of arriving at Drury: close-knit communities, rather than being closed off, are perhaps some of the most open. Colleagues immediately approached me, curious about my research and teaching interests; well-established members of the faculty sought my advice on administrative questions; advanced students stopped by my office to see what courses I might offer in the future.
Colonial Virginians’ hospitality was not entirely selfless. They relished the opportunity to discuss news from the Old World and gain fresh information from recent immigrants. Drury’s community, from my perspective, seems to function in much the same way. A small community can only thrive when it constantly adapts to new stimuli. While that can pose a challenge to those coming into that environment – whether new students, faculty, or even a president – it can challenge those long established there as well. What is most encouraging is that everyone here seems excited by the task.