Izzy Kasdin ’14
Courtesy Izzy Kasdin

Izzy Kasdin ’14 is a proud local. She knows the rhythms of the town and University: how the campus fills and empties each year, marked by a calendar of beginnings, breaks, Reunions, and departures. She grew up in Princeton.

At 14, Kasdin began volunteering as a docent with the Princeton Historical Society, a non-profit committed to sharing its own sense of the “local.” In January, the organization named Kasdin as its new executive director.

“It was a complete shock,” Kasdin remembers. She says although she didn’t formally apply to the position, her return to Princeton “makes perfect sense.”

It was the Historical Society, after all, that first introduced her to the field of museum curation and preservation. As a teen, her first task was to greet visitors at the door. Then, in 2008, the Historical Society organized an exhibition about political participation and activism. At the closing of the exhibit, Kasdin remembers taking the time to carefully pack up a women’s suffrage banner.

“It was just this incredibly powerful experience,” she says. “I felt such a connection and kinship to these remarkable women who, in a very recognizable way, paved the way for the opportunities I enjoy as a woman today.”

When Kasdin gingerly took down the banner, and held it in her hands, she understood — for the first time — the power that objects from the past contain.

It was moment of immense awe, she says, and also of gratitude. As the Historical Society’s executive director, Kasdin says she hopes members of the Princeton community will have an opportunity to feel similarly moved by history.

“Local history is usually your first encounter with any kind of history,” she says.

At Princeton, Kasdin majored in history, and earned a certificate in American studies. She was awarded the 2014 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize. After graduation, as a Gates Cambridge Scholar, she completed an M.Phil. in archaeological heritage and museums at the University of Cambridge.

Kasdin’s appointment wasn’t the only big news the Princeton Historical Society shared this year. The nonprofit settled into a new home at the Updike Farmstead, a six-acre property listed on the National Register of Historical Places. It was a big move from its previous location downtown, she says.

“It’s a whole new world, and a big identity shift for us,” she says.

As a young alumna, Kasdin is focused on growth. But while her focus is “future oriented”, she says the most essential part of her work is something a bit more complex. She believes in “history” as a verb — that is, the “practice” of history isn’t only about “appreciating the past.”

History’s real job, Kasdin says, is “teaching empathy.”  The Historical Society’s goal, ultimately, is to be a steward for Princeton’s past — to connect the community, and shape the future.