Allie Barton, Yale News

For Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 — the Beinecke Library’s director of community engagement, a leader in numerous New Haven cultural organizations and an accomplished historian who worked extensively on the Yale and Slavery research project — understanding history is about “tomorrow.”

On Friday, April 11, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that Morand will serve as New Haven’s next City Historian. Under Connecticut state law, towns and cities may appoint a municipal historian to take the lead on local historical and commemorative initiatives. Now, as he steps into the role, Morand is looking to spearhead historical and preservation efforts that can not only educate New Haven on its past, but also prepare the city, on the cusp of its 250th anniversary in 2034, for its future.

“City Historian is a role that can be defined by the person who holds it, working with their colleagues and collaborators,” Morand said to the News. “The charge is to advise, and uplift, and celebrate and connect.”

Morand, who grew up near Cincinnati, Ohio, became a New Haven resident in 1983, when he arrived as an undergraduate student at Yale College. He has since lived in the Elm City, which he described as “at once comfortable and cosmopolitan.”

During college, Morand was involved in labor solidarity work. In 1984, Yale’s UNITE HERE Local 34 union, which represents University employees, staged a major strike, leading several college classes to be held off campus, Morand recalled. He used the opportunity to get to know communities away from campus. He also spent several summers in New Haven.

“New Haven is large enough to be interesting and small enough to be friendly,” Morand said. “There are people here who trace their lineage back centuries, and there are people who just arrived in recent days and weeks from various parts of the world. And it’s very much a welcoming place.”

Morand has served as a leader in the Yale and Slavery Research Project, an initiative that began in 2020 when University President Peter Salovey asked David Blight, a Yale history professor, to investigate Yale’s historical ties to slavery.

“Mike was the first person I went to, because of his knowledge of the libraries, and particularly the Beinecke collections,” Blight told the News.

Morand authored a chapter in the project’s recently released book, “Yale and Slavery: A History.” He also managed a variety of webinars and events relating to the project, Blight said. Most recently, Morand and Chrales Warner Jr., another member of the Yale and Slavery Working Group, curated an exhibit in the News Haven Museum, “Shining Light on Truth,” which opened in February. 

The exhibition, which was timed to complement the publication of the project’s book, commemorates Black scholarship, community and resistance in New Haven throughout the city’s history.

Joanna Steinberg, the museum’s director of learning and engagement, has met weekly with Morand for months to plan the exhibit, coordinate tours and discuss the ongoing project. She said that Morand has been active in offering his own tours of the exhibit and sharing the collection — and his experience curating it — with visitors.

Steinberg described her amazement at Morand’s “encyclopedic” knowledge of community history, and his enthusiasm for sharing it with others.

“Something that I think of first when I think of Mike is his ability to bring so many people together in the work and to help forge those networks and collaborative energies,” Steinberg said. “He’s a major connector. I know that will continue, and can only continue more, with him in this role.” 

Jennifer Coggins, who works as a community engagement archivist at the Beinecke, also described Morand as a “connector” — of people, institutions and resources throughout New Haven.

The community engagement team, which Morand directs, organizes community events at the Beinecke and partnerships with other New Haven cultural and archival institutions, Coggins explained.

In the press release announcing Morand’s role as city historian, Elicker emphasized Morand’s ties to numerous New Haven institutions. Morand served on the Board of Alders while studying at Yale Divinity School in the 1990s. He serves on the board of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the W. E. B. Du Bois Museum Foundation, and he chairs the history committee of the Dixwell Community House.

Morand also serves as chair of the Friends of the Grove Street Cemetery, where, according to Blight, he offers tours of the cemetery grounds.

When asked about plans and ideas for his role, Morand told the News about a project on which he is hoping to collaborate with the New Haven Free Public Library: building a “memory lab” in the Ives Main Library where New Haveners can document their own family history.

“The work is both to look back over time, understand, analyze, discover, recover, over the centuries, but also to encourage people today to be documenting and preserving their records and memories,” Morand said. “Success as City Historian will be measured by the City Historian in 100 years being able to say that the people in 2025 and 2026 and 2027 did a good job, their records are available.”

Maria Bernhey, New Haven’s City Librarian, explained that the memory lab would allow New Haveners to learn how to archive and digitize their family documents, such as postcards or videos. Bernhey and Coggins, who is involved with the project, declined to provide specific details about the initiative because it is still in an early stage.

Recalling Judith Schiff, New Haven’s former City Historian, Coggins noticed similarities between Schiff and Morand.

“Both of them sort of serve as a historical resource in themselves,” Coggins said. “They’re people that other people come to with questions about New Haven history, and if they don’t know the answer off the top of their head, they have a good idea of who to ask or where to look. That’s something that is clearly part of the role and, I think, part of the personality of a good City Historian.”

Through their work at the Beinecke, Coggins observed that Morand has made a priority of focusing on communities that have been underrepresented in past tellings of New Haven’s history.

Strolling through Branford Courtyard on a spring weekend morning, Morand pointed out his favorite markings on the stone walls — including one displaying “the people who built this place,” he said — before stopping at a quote from Nathan Hale ’73, a Revolutionary War hero, engraved over an archway.

“I agree with this one, you can quote me on it,” he said, pointing up at the cursive lettering. “Michael Morand, city historian: ‘I wish to be useful.’”

Morand is the third City Historian in New Haven history. Richard Hegel, the first, was appointed by Mayor Biagio DiLieto and served until his death in 2012. Schiff was then appointed by Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. that year.

Schiff passed away in 2022.

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.