September 16, 2021

“I really enjoy the community college setting. Students are there because they have a desire to learn.”

English major Catherine Moloney enrolled at Great Bay Community College because it was convenient and cost-effective. After working in retail and later at a credit union, where she become an administrative assistant in the fraud department, she opted to focus on her education.

“It was a good, steady job, but I always wanted to be an English major. I love reading and I love writing. When the pandemic came around, I decided to leave the workforce because I had this opportunity to pursue my education while the world was in this weird state,” she said.

“I had heard good things about Great Bay, but it wildly exceeded my expectations. I took one class and totally found myself there.”

With graduation coming in the spring, Moloney, 26, recently completed an internship with the Portsmouth Public Library through the New Hampshire Humanities Collaborative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She worked in Special Collections Department, helping the library research its art and artifacts from a social justice perspective.

Her summer-long work focused on certain artifacts of local and national history and the messages behind their display, intentional or otherwise. Her work was motivated by the library’s interest in ensuring the objects on display are consistent with its mission of diversity and inclusion, she said.

Her first project involved a marble bust of George Washington, donated to the library many years ago. Moloney used the bust to explore a new conversation focused on Ona Judge, who was enslaved to the Washingtons before fleeing and eventually coming to Portsmouth and Greenland, where she lived many years.

“I wanted to see if I could provide a different perspective on this bust of George Washington,” she said. “I found her story compelling and it’s also a really interesting story about Portsmouth history and American history. I wanted to use the bust as a conversation starter to talk about Ona Judge and the Washingtons’ history as slave holders, and of having one set of beliefs publicly and another privately.”

She helped the library write new interpretive labels.

Moloney also researched historical portraits in the library collection, discovering that some of the men were either slave holders or middlemen in the slave trade, while others were among the earliest occupiers of Indigenous land. “I wanted to try to reframe that story from one about the discovery of America and the founding of this country to one that provided context about Abenaki tribes whose land it was before they arrived. It was not unoccupied land,” she said.

As a result of her research, the library has relocated some of the portraits to less prominent locations and provided additional context about the lives of those portrayed. “The library is not in the business of taking information away. They are interested in framing that information through our modern understanding and our modern lens, as opposed to accepting the old narrative going forward,” she said.

Moloney, who lives in South Berwick, hopes to continue her education. She just began a new job with York County Community Action in Sanford, Maine. She praised her professors in general and English professors Emily Hinnov and Cynthia Walton specifically. “They have been wonderful mentors and allies during my education at Great Bay,” she said. “For now, I am trying to enjoy every minute I am still at Great Bay. It’s been a wonderful experience. I really enjoy the community college setting. Students are there because they have a desire to learn.”