A lot has happened in New Haven since a group of 500 Puritans, led by the Rev. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, sailed into the harbor in 1638. Eighty years later, the Collegiate School moved here from Old Saybrook and was renamed Yale, after a generous benefactor.
Yale’s history is inextricably linked with New Haven, and to recognize Yalies who have taken a scholarly interest in the city, the Yale Club of New Haven awards $500 for the best senior essay on any “urban topic” pertaining to the city. The prize, named after municipal historian Richard Hegel GRD ’50, was first awarded last May and applications for this year’s contest, due this week, are trickling in.
The prize will be presented at the Yale Club of New Haven’s annual meeting on May 13 in Woolsey Hall.
“The purpose of this contest is to recognize an excellent essay on an aspect of Greater New Haven,” said Cynthia Farrar, director of urban academic initiatives in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “If you’re interested in urban renewal, there’s every reason to learn about it here in New Haven rather than going to, say, New York.”
Michael Barbaro ’02 is working on an essay about the Charter revision commission, entrusted in 1966 with redrawing the 33 wards New Haven then comprised. He said the availability of primary documents allows Yale students to “make a contribution” to the study of the city’s history.
“Yale’s urban surroundings also allow one to use New Haven as a microcosm for a larger intellectual project,” he said.
Barbaro is a former editor in chief of the Yale Daily News.
Gabrielle Brainard ’01 received the prize last year for her essay, “Party Walls: Understanding Urban Change through a Block of New Haven Row Houses, 1870-1979,” which was published in the Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical Society.
The contest is not only for students pursuing urban studies. The award goes to “the best piece received,” reflecting the manifold interests of its namesake, said Melanie Ginter, a representative at the Yale Club of New Haven.
“It’s a way to encourage scholarship,” she said.
Hegel said it was “very generous” for the prize to be named after him. Although he did not grow up in New Haven, he comes from a long line of Yalies and New Haven residents. His father, Henry John Hegel, graduated from Yale with a master’s degree in forestry, and his grandparents lived in New Haven. Hegel said he visited New Haven every holiday and decided to settle there after he graduated from Yale.
“If you live in a community, you should know as much about its present and past as possible,” he said.
Hegel has long been involved in various aspects of the New Haven community. His many titles over the years have included president of the New Haven Preservation Trust, former executive director of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, and former president of the Yale Club of New Haven. He also served for 27 years on the New Haven Historic District Commission.
Hegel has manifested his interest in the Elm City in other ways as well.
“I enjoy writing about New Haven history,” he said.