Dr. Matthew Smalarz, a history professor at Manor College, wrote and published a book this year detailing the history of the college.
Smalarz, who grew up in Bustleton, started his research in late 2017 and published the book as Manor celebrated its 75th anniversary. The book is broken up into 6 chapters, which discuss the influence of the college’s origins, religious affiliations, leadership and global connections.
“There had never been a formal history of Manor in this format, so for me, it was the opportunity to explore a different dimension of the college,” Smalarz said.
Dr. Jonathan Peri, Manor president, first approached Smalarz with the idea of writing a formal institutional history.
“After being asked about it, almost immediately I said yes,” Smalarz said.
He then began sifting through sources such as yearbooks, academic catalogs, students newspapers and annual reviews.
“That’s the thing about primary research, it takes a lot of time and you have to be really devoted to understanding the sources and the details within those sources to get the most out of them. For me it was a very rewarding process,” Smalarz said.
The Sisters of St. Basil started the college in 1947. That can be found with a quick Google search. However, for Smalarz, writing this book meant looking deeper. He sought to understand how their ideas and influences persevered and changed over time.
Manor was originally a school designed for refugees, mostly Ukrainian-American women, to get an education in the United States. The college changed and expanded both academically and physically, but held onto this original idea.
“In many ways this is the story of many colleges after WWII,” Smalarz said. “Manor was, to a large degree, a reflection of so many institutions of higher learning that went through these stages, these evolutions, these stages of internal development where they reflected on their strengths and weaknesses relative to other institutions.”
The school went on to add more majors, add sports, become co-ed, and more recently, become a bachelor’s-level institution.
“That’s really the story of Manor, it’s a story of helping others who may not have the resources, and finding a way to give them guidance,” Smalarz said.
Now, as the world watches the Russia-Ukraine conflict, institutions that were founded to develop refugees find themselves contextualized on a global stage.
“What you gain by telling history is that you can’t tell an effective story without understanding the individual actions, the individual decisions and the collective decisions that all form the basis of why these establishments took the form that they eventually did,” Smalarz said.
“You can get superficiality out of any institutional history written in a few paragraphs but does it reflect what goes into the making of an academic program? If not for those details, the story you might try to tell won’t demonstrate the complexity.”
Smalarz compared writing the book to completing a second doctoral thesis, and says he views this as a continuation of that work.
“It’s a lesson in why history does matter, and why culture matters, and what we can learn from past individuals who were connected to the ethnic roots of Manor, and what they can teach us today about preserving and sustaining,” Smalarz said.