Hello from the other side … of summer research

You may have noticed that things have been rather silent on the blog front lately. While not intentional, this silence has mostly been the by-product of a very busy year so far. So many good things are happening, but many of those things have needed lots of attention. 

After another packed teaching semester in the spring (which turned out to be much smoother than the hurricane-wrecked fall term), I took a quick breath and moved house a day after turning in final grades. I know, what was I thinking?! It has been incredibly exciting, though, to have a space of my own that will *hopefully* inspire more productivity in days to come. Within a few weeks, however, I was packing suitcases and loading up the car for a summer of research travel — hence the extended static on the blog.

Last year I was awarded a short-term research fellowship to work for a month at the Winterthur Museum and Library at Wilmington, Delaware. The property originally belonged to the DuPont family and became a unique collection of early American art and material culture over the course of the twentieth century. While at Winterthur for the month of June, I hoped to work on research related to a new potential project on deathways in the early American South. A lot of the original sources I have read that related to my Ph.D. work emphasized the deadly nature of the environment in southern colonies like North Carolina. These comments made me wonder about how people dealt with the death of loved ones and how they chose to remember them. 

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A mass-produced Nathaniel Currier lithograph with hand-written details regarding the death of Isaac Warton [Winterthur Downs Manuscript Collection, photo by author]
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A page from a family booklet chronicling births and deaths [Winterthur Downs Manuscript Collection, photo by author]
I am relatively new to using material culture, or the objects and spaces people used in the past, as part of my historical research, so working with staff at Winterthur helped demystify that process. I got the opportunity to look at mourning jewelry intricately created with gold, enamel, and human hair, as well as hold tiny hand-painted portrait miniatures that were often carried as tokens of remembrance. The Winterthur’s Downs Manuscripts Collection also houses a large variety of manuscript items that helped me add context to the material items I studied. One item in particular has inspired a new journal article project that I hope to expand on later this year! In the end, this research is actually going to have a big impact on my current book manuscript project.

While at Winterthur, I also got the chance to stay on-site at the Foulsham Scholars’ Residence with other current fellows. It was a fun opportunity to work side-by-side with other scholars daily in the library and then swap goals, finds, and advice over coffee or wine back at the house. We also had the freedom to roam the grounds that teemed with flora and fauna (like the adorable fox kit and her mum that I happened upon one morning walk). If you’re in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the house museum and stunning gardens! 

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The reflecting pool at Winterthur Museum and Library [Photo by author]
By the start of July, I drove over to Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania to spend a week as a short-term fellow at the David Library of the American Revolution. This is a unique little institution created by Dr. Sol Feinstone in 1959 to house his growing collection of materials related to the American Revolution. The library is soon to move to the American Philosophical Society

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An early morning writing session on the front porch of David Library’s Feinstone Residence

in Philadelphia in 2020, so it was great to get the chance to visit the farm on the Delaware River and enjoy the quiet as I worked through many, MANY reels of microfilm. Here, I worked primarily on materials related to Scots in North Carolina who remained loyal to the British Crown during the revolution. This will help me expand my work on the final chapter of my book manuscript. 

While it’s been an incredibly productive summer in terms of research, the calendar is quickly turning toward August and the teaching semester once again. I’ve learned a lot about time management during the academic year (another post for another day), but I’m a little nervous about hitting my writing and research goals over the coming semester of teaching. Only time will tell. 

For my fellow academic readers, stay tuned for a future post on making the most of a short-term fellowship or research trip. You might also find my earlier post “Into the Archives: Tips for your first research trip” to be helpful. And to all my readers, I can’t wait to share some really cool local history projects with you in the near future!

 


2 thoughts on “Hello from the other side … of summer research

  1. I’m listening to Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles when I walk these days. Really sad stuff, and it does a powerful job of acting as a historical counter-punch to all the pseudo-historical propaganda U.S. citizens get pounded with as children about the Revolutionary era. More work on people who loved their homeland but couldn’t renege on their allegiance as Britons can only help us actually understand what was going on in that slow-motion train wreck. As for short-term fellowships, they’re great. Hope you get one at JCB soon. Loved that place.

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    1. Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles is a great entry point into Loyalist studies and definitely takes on the narrative of American Revolution that was crafted during the federal era. I know a few people currently working on a documentary project called “The Good Americans” that hopes to emphasize just how much the Rev was a civil war. There are some heart breaking stories I’ve come across in the archives. And yes, the JCB would be amazing!

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