by Audrey Smith
The possibility of having an “adventure in the archives” always seemed a bit far-fetched. My perceptions of academia, particularly as related to notions of adventurousness, were dominated by images of Indiana Jones holding a dirty artifact and marking the X on the map. When Professor Carolyn Lewis (the adviser to whatever academic adventures loomed on the horizon for me) suggested that the archives were a time-warping place of magic and discovery, I conjured visions of swashbuckling conflicts amongst dueling historians, perhaps a diverting romantic intrigue amongst the dusty stacks – anything less than that couldn’t be an adventure, and to call it so seemed simply and woefully inaccurate.
By Jacqueline Antonovich
A wise woman once remarked, “We are living in a material world and I am a material girl.” And while this ode to consumption may have been referring to the procurement and enjoyment of luxury items, I think Madonna may have been on to something – though perhaps not in the way she intended. You see, over this past summer I had an unintentional, but deeply meaningful, love affair with . . . material culture.
by Kimberlyn Kasperitis
This summer I worked with Professor Carolyn Herbst Lewis and three other students on a research project in which we explored the history of reproductive health care in Chicago. Part of our summer included a trip to Chicago to do archival research on our subjects, and, after a month of pouring over secondary research, I was nowhere near having a thesis or a direction for a paper, which was supposed to have something, anything, to do with abortion services. I knew going into the project that, given the socially charged and complicated nature of the subject, it would challenge me both academically and emotionally, but I had no idea of the frustrations that this project would give me. When we arrived in Chicago, I made the decision to take a step back and see if any of the primary sources I was interested in would speak to me and steer me in the right direction. Even so, as I stepped into the unexpectedly warm and brightly lit Northwestern University archives, I was admittedly pessimistic about whether any of the sources I requested would be of any use. What I did not expect to discover were materials that would give me chills and move me as emotionally as some of these materials did.
By Meggan Woodbury Bilotte
This summer I, like many of my colleagues, packed up my laptop and #2 pencil and headed out to foreign archives in distant lands—and by that I mean I took a research trip through the beautiful U.S. Southwest. I had two archives to visit, and I was sure to contact both a couple of weeks before my trip to make sure the collections I desired were available and accessible, as well as to familiarize myself with any rules or regulations that may not have been listed on the archives' respective websites.
by Sarah Handley-Cousins
For much of this past year, I’ve been entrenched in dissertation research. Despite the long hours hunched over dusty papers, trying to decipher century-old handwriting, generally while cold and hungry, I’m not complaining. I’m continually amazed that I’m getting the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve always wanted: the work of history. What I wasn’t prepared for, necessarily, was the emotional work that would come along with it.
By Adam Turner
The stereotype of historians isolated in archives with dusty papers and dim lighting has more than a grain of truth to it. Granted, my archive experiences have been more ice cold and brightly lit than dank, but the isolation can be striking. I've spent entire days immersed more in the past than in the world around me. History work can be lonely and leave you feeling cut off from the present. This can actually be useful when it means closer connection with historical actors and their worlds. But you run the risk of getting cut off from everything -- both the past and the present -- during the at-times mind-numbing search for that single piece of valuable evidence within reams of irrelevant material.
After hours of paging through letters, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles unrelated to my own project, I start seeing paper rather than people. At these times, it is easy to forget that the "useless" sources are snippets of people's lives. Even if only momentarily, they intersected with the lives of one or many individuals -- people with full, rich lives outside of my own area of research interest. Because zoning out like this over so many scraps of paper can be such an issue, it's both welcoming and jarring when a source wrenches me out of that funk: when it forces me to come face-to-face with the lived experience of the past.
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
Lately I find that my mind is muddled. I have accepted a position at a new institution, so both professionally and personally there are big changes ahead. In the meantime, I am caught in that strange space in-between. I am finishing up projects and responsibilities here, even as I am already making plans and thinking about my courses there. I look around my home and my campus office and all I see are things that need to be put into boxes. It is a strange time in which beginnings and endings are all tangled into one busy mess. No wonder it’s hard to get anything “done”.
By Ashley Baggett
Welcome to the third installment of our regular feature, “Adventures in the Archives!”
In this reoccurring series, Nursing Clio bloggers will share interesting finds in the archives and ask our readers for feedback, ideas, and analysis. It’s just like you’re sitting in the dusty archives with us!
While researching in the archives, I have learned to expect the unexpected. Several times I read letters containing humorous anecdotes leading me to laugh out loud in the middle of a quiet setting, and yes, a few times I have danced a small jig in my chair when I found the perfect bit of evidence. I have also learned useful tips, such as using the microfilm machine to warm my cold hands and make my blue fingernails appear flesh colored again or befriending the archivist to make a more productive and pleasant research trip.