Adventures in the Archives
Adventures without Archives: Professors without Travel Funding

Adventures without Archives: Professors without Travel Funding

I am a professor teaching at a public teaching university in Grand Junction, Colorado. I love research and thinking about research. However, I am poor in both time and funding. Like others at similar institutions, I teach a 4/4 load with close to 150 students per semester and my institution does not allow us to have teaching assistants. My salary meets my modest needs, but does not allow me a lot of room for discretionary spending.

It is rare to find a flight that leaves from Grand Junction and arrives near one of the archives useful for my research for under $500, particularly during the months available in the academic year for travel. Alternatively, I can drive to Denver or Salt Lake City to access cheaper flights, but both cities are approximately 4 hours away by car. Both train and bus go regularly to Denver, but both take over 8 hours.

Screenshot of a website listing flight options from United and American Airlines, for flights from Denver to Philadelphia. All three shown cost $543.

I receive $600 per year for travel funding. This amount has not been increased since I arrived at my institution in 1999. I can apply for additional funding from a small pot of money called “Faculty Professional Development Funds.” Some years I have received additional funding, but many years I do not because we have many faculty who are doing amazing things that also deserve funding.

In most years, I also apply for additional fellowship money from outside sources, but that has been hard to come by. I haven’t completely struck out. I received New England Regional Consortium funding in 2005 that allowed me to go to several New England archives and received funding for a National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar in the summer of 2011, which allowed me to travel to Philadelphia. This year, I was an alternate for a long-term fellowship but never made it off the alternate list and was turned down for two short-term fellowships, competing with upwards of 170 others for those spots. I try not to be bitter; I understand that we all need money for research and that there are hundreds of good projects out there.

This year, I was granted a year-long sabbatical. Sabbaticals are not guaranteed at my institution. I had been turned down the last time I applied for one and it had been 11 years since my last one. If I had taken a semester, I would have received full salary, but I wanted a year to read and research and write. Given my experience with my last sabbatical, I knew a semester would not be enough to complete my manuscript. This means I am on half salary — $34,699 — for the upcoming year. (The glamorous life of the humanities professor at a state teaching university!) This will be hard, but I have a little savings and a generous friend offered to fund a research trip for me.

Denver Union Station. (Loco Steve/Flickr)

This week, I departed for a five-week research trip. To try to save money, I opted for the 8-1/2 hour train ride to Denver to get a flight for under $200 that leaves at midnight and puts me in Boston about 6:00 the next morning. The first three weeks of my trip will be spent in Boston where I am lucky enough to have a friend with a guest room. I will cook beans and rice for the two of us and make PB&J sandwiches for lunch. The last two weeks will be spent in Philadelphia where Airbnb makes lodging semi-affordable. Again, I will be able to cook and to make sandwiches to try to save money. In both cities, I will be diligent, arriving at the opening of the archives and remaining until they close. I will contact archivists in advance so that I can hit the ground running. It likely won’t be enough, but I likely won’t be able to afford another trip in the spring.

Luckily, in 2018 it is easier to access sources than it was when I was working on my dissertation in the late 1990s. There are more and more digitized sources and archives out there. I have plumbed the depths of online sources at the Library of Congress, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and elsewhere. I have access to a consortium that links our library to other academic and non-academic libraries in the west. This allows me to access primary sources in print form. (Unfortunately, it does not get me access to some of the databases, like Early American Imprints, that would be useful for me.)

I have spent my summer checking out dozens of books at a time, most of which arrive from the consortium libraries. The student workers laugh when they see me coming. I arrive with heavy-duty canvas bags so I can get my books from the circulation desk to my car. (Since I canceled my gym membership for this year to save money, I figure this counts as resistance training.)

I do what I can. I hope to have a completed manuscript by April or May of next year. I fear that there will be too many gaps in it for it to be publishable. I know that I will pledge to remain diligent and complete the research, to keep applying for fellowships, to continue to try to do the seemingly impossible work of publishing. I also know how hard it will be to do so.

I don’t write this post to be discouraging, to depress my gentle readers, or to make graduate students tremble. I simply write this because too little is known about the life of professors at teaching institutions. At every conference I attend, my beloved colleagues from research institutions make assumptions that don’t hold true for professors like me. When I speak up about this at conferences, colleagues from research institutions often look puzzled and colleagues from institutions like mine come up to me afterward to say, “They just don’t understand, do they?”

I like many things about my job. I do love teaching (at least on most days), and bring my enthusiasm for my field and my research into the classroom where a handful of the 150 students I have that semester respond. But I am also a historian without a home: a historian without ready access to archives, and to the time and money it takes to get there. If nothing else, this year-long sabbatical will result in some damn fine Nursing Clio pieces, and perhaps I will exceed all of my own expectations and end up with a publishable manuscript.

Wish me luck.

Sarah Swedberg is a Professor of History at Colorado Mesa University and a lifelong activist.

2 thoughts on “Adventures without Archives: Professors without Travel Funding

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      Oh my goodness, yes! Thank you for posting this. I’ve been blogging about this dilemma for over a decade and wrote my first book on a shoestring budget of trips to England from California — though I don’t know if I would have done the 8.5 hr train trip to a plane. Keep going! Looking forward to your research finds from this year.

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