Past Is Prologue

The First Interim

"As this writer stood taking photos of the Palach death mask, a Czechoslovak approached and said quietly: 'Take all of the pictures that you can. We want the world to know about this.'" From the 1969 Prague Interim, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968

Prague

Before January 1968, few Wofford students were eager to leave the warmth of their homes at the end of winter break for exams on Wofford’s rainy and cold January campus. That changed with the college’s first Interim. For many students, Interim 1968 provided an opportunity for their first flight on an airplane, their first trip outside the United States and their first experience with another culture and way of life. During the inaugural Interim, Wofford students left their chalkboards and desks to live among the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire, with Spanish-speaking families in Mexico or with hippies in San Francisco. They studied jazz in New Orleans; art in Florence, Italy, and international politics at the United Nations in New York City. They explored possible careers in the ministry, teaching and medical research. They developed and produced the college’s first play and created the foundation of the Wofford Theatre Workshop. Thanks to Interim, the walls of Wofford were expanding along with student consciousness. 

Some things haven’t changed.

Interim today still harkens back to the original Interim proposal, giving “both teacher and student the liberty to explore, to experiment, to try new approaches, and in doing so to run risks that cannot be run during the regular semester when the emphasis is different…. The Interim program has as its keynote innovation and experiment.”

The 1970s

Project offerings saw a mixture of in-class projects, such as Dr. Linton Dunson’s study of the Philadelphia Convention, Dr. Dennis Dooley’s analysis of Finnegans Wake and Dr. John Bullard’s project on religious cults. Students studied archaeology with Dr. John Harrington and Dr. Ab Abercrombie and photography with Dr. Vivian Fisher. Dr. John Pilley offered “Man’s Best Friend,” a study of dogs. Students in that project can say that they knew him well before his book and national television appearances with Chaser.

The 1980s

Internships were becoming more and more popular during the 1980s with opportunities to explore medicine, teaching and the law topping the list. Students and faculty became even more creative, finding ways to combine internship experiences with research and foreign study. In 1988, for example, Will Sharp conducted a study of Cesium-137, Thorium, Potassium and Uranium-238 in the commercial milk supply of Norway in order to observe the impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. His documented research paper, several inches thick, is still in the college archives. In it he writes that the study was of his own initiative and found that “the results of the report indicate a relatively low danger to the public,” and that while “food products as well as the general environment will certainly [show] an increase in the incidence of cancer… the effects of Chernobyl may not be felt for many years to come.”

The past 20 years

Interim projects have become more diverse and more creative, and independent projects proposed by students are more common. In 2002 a group of three Wofford College students traveled from Asheville, N.C., to Columbia, S.C. during Interim searching for the best hole-in-the-wall eats for southern cuisine. In addition to eating their way through some strange food, including pickled pig lips, complete with disposable razor in case the bristles were too much, students wrote and completed layout, design and printing for an 85-page book. 

Ben Ingram ’05, who won the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions in 2014, came back to the college during Interim 2015 to help students in “The Price is Right,” put statistics and probability theory into practice. He loved Interim as a student. “One of my favorite Interims,” says Ingram, “was on the Rubik’s cube. We came up with a way to solve it and learn the mathematics behind it. We had to solve it in less than five minutes to pass. My roommate took his apart and greased it up with hair gel, and he solved it in something like 40 seconds.”