Jerry Shaffer said in 2014 that he started the Brown Bag Seminars in September 1969, when he arrived at the University of Connecticut from Swarthmore College. Swarthmore had a similar, bi-weekly, tradition. However, in 2019 Len Krimerman said that when he arrived in 1968 he was told that the brown bag was already a well respected custom of the department. Further, the record shows that Jerry Shaffer arrived in 1967. So perhaps that is when they started. The spotty historical record suggests that brown bags may have been sporadic at first. John Troyer in response to Jerry’s claim seemed to recall that there were some when he arrived in fall 1970. Scott Lehmann has a copy of one he gave in 1973. In 1975 Joel Kupperman came back from Cambridge where Karen Kupperman was working on her PhD in History. He was impressed by a weekly brown bag organized by the history graduate students there and institutionalized the weekly brown bag at UConn. A dittoed memo supplied by UConn PhD Joel Marks confirms that by September 1976 the brown bag seminars were firmly in place. That memo, from Joel Kupperman, reads in part, “Thanks to the positive response from intellectually lively members of the department, the future of the Brown Bag Seminar as a weekly event seems assured. The first lunch seminar will be on Monday the 20th at 12:00, and will feature Roger Hancock. Please plan to come every week. A Schedule is posted on the bulletin board.”
A brown bag is a one hour, generally (though not exclusively) intra-departmental colloquium, starting with a twenty to twenty five minute talk by a faculty member or graduate student, filled from there to the end with lively questions and answers. Members of the department typically present work in progress. Graduate students are encouraged to present one around prospectus-time, and several during dissertation-writing time.
At present the events occur from 12:15 to 1:15 PM on Wednesdays in the basement lounge of Manchester Hall. A sign-up sheet is posted in the Philosophy Mail Room as one has been since at least September 1976. Please interpret that sentence in pre-internet fashion. To wit: there is a piece of paper in that physical location, with a pencil provided, on which department members must pencil in their name next to one of the Wednesday dates in order to be put on the schedule. Visitors not currently present on campus may contact a member of the department to do the penciling for them.
The penciled names are then digitized and show up on our Calendar. When it is within the group of six soonest to occur it will show up on the homepage too, as an “upcoming” event.
(Any further evidence concerning the history of the brown bag would be gratefully received. Please contact Don Baxter.)