Guest Post: Why and How You Should Build a Web Presence

Today’s guest post is by Lindsay M. Chervinsky. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis and is completing her manuscript, “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.”

As the new school year starts, many departments are offering seminars for their graduate students on skills and approaches to find a job in this difficult market. Editorials on ChronicleVitae and the American Historical Association mission to document where historians work demonstrate that the history community is beginning to welcome “non-traditional” employment opportunities. While these efforts represent a great first step to introducing students to jobs in editing, public history, and teaching, I would argue that there should be a broader conversation about learning to create a public voice and building a web presence.

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Guest Post: On Providing Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Today’s guest poster, Emily Yankowitz, recently received her B.A. in History from Yale University. She is currently pursuing an M.Phil in American History at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the intersection of politics, culture, and memory in early American republic. Here she writes about the impact of her experiences doing research as an undergraduate.

UntitledAs a recent graduate preparing to pursue a career as a historian, I have been spending a fair amount of time considering how I came to this decision. While I am sure I will continue to grapple with this question for a long time, particularly considering the uncertain job market, I can say that my experience conducting historical research as an undergraduate played a central role in informing this choice. In this post, therefore, I would like to use my own experience to reflect on the importance of providing opportunities for undergraduate research.

The summer before my junior year in high school, I got my first taste of intense primary source research as a research intern at St. Paul’s Church, National Historic Site, Mt. Vernon, NY. This experience catalyzed my interest in early America and gave me a different perspective on the past than I had previously encountered. Still in high school, I also volunteered as a research assistant for a professor who needed a student to gather articles from microfilm of my town’s newspapers.

As an undergraduate, my experience ballooned through coursework for history seminars, independent research for a senior essay, and work as a research assistant for five professors (three from the university I attended, two from other universities) and one independent scholar. I completed tasks ranging from spending a summer in an archive collecting material covering the 300-year history of an institution and city to analyzing newspaper coverage of slave rebellions in the United States and West Indies. The majority of these projects were not on topics in early American history, which gave me the chance to work with different types of sources and broaden my knowledge of the longer trajectory of American history. Through undergraduate research seminars and writing a senior essay requirement, I gained experience conducting research on topics in early American history.

In the process, I received guidance from professors with a variety of research styles, worked with a range of databases, archives, and libraries, and gained vital tools and necessary confidence to pursue my own projects. Along the way, I honed my paleography skills and became quite adept at using microfilm. But above all, these research experiences provided me with profound insight into the work historians do and attracted me to the profession.

I also saw the less glamorous side of “doing history.” I came to understand the amount of labor involved to acquire the information necessary to write a single sentence and that doing research is not always straightforward or enjoyable­—transcribing records isn’t the most intellectually stimulating task, documents burn in fires, and directions that appeared to be enlightening may be dead ends.

Yet, I quickly became captivated by the act of finding, combing through, and analyzing sources and the adrenaline rush that comes when you find patterns in material or locate just the right letter. The impact of these earlier research experiences became most apparent when I began to work on my senior essay. I knew how to locate the primary sources I needed, to operate the microfilm machine I would use to gather most of my source materials, and to organize the sources I gathered. While this process has the potential to be quite daunting, because of my prior experience, I felt well prepared for the task.

In general, the senior essay or honors thesis, coursework that includes research assignments, and departmental seminars tend to be the most common chance for undergraduate history majors to pursue history research. However, the number of opportunities to acquire such research experiences varies from university to university. Some offer structured programs with research elements, while others, for a variety of reasons, take a more hands-off approach. Particularly in the latter case, student organizations that function as research networks and the history department itself can also play an important role in involving undergraduates in research, including encouraging students to look into positions volunteering or working at places such as archives, libraries, museums, and historical sites.

While acknowledging the prohibitive role of cost in such programs, another avenue might be giving students the chance to present their research at undergraduate research symposiums. I personally benefited from the chance to present my senior essay research on a history department panel and a presentation series hosted by my residential college. Funding and whether a student can do research for credit are two other variables in this equation. While summer funding for research projects varies greatly, jobs working as a research assistant or at a university archive may be able to fulfill work-study requirements.

Regardless of what career undergraduates go on to pursue, they can benefit from the experience of conducting research. For one, it has a powerful role in challenging misconceptions that history is merely memorizing names, dates, and places in the kind of hands-on way that a lecture course or non-research seminar does not. Moreover, it enables students to learn that there are still many gaps in our knowledge, view events in the past from different perspectives, and engage in the work of historians.

I can only offer the perspective of an undergraduate at the university I attended, so I would be interested to hear more about this topic from individuals at a range of institutions. What kind of undergraduate research opportunities are available in your department and what are other potential methods of encouraging students to pursue undergraduate research?

Guest Post: French Imposters, Diplomatic Double Speak, and Buried Archival Treasures

Today’s guest post is by Cassandra Good, Associate Editor of The Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington, and author of Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Women and Men in the Early American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). Follow her @CassAGood. 

Monroe 1The latest volume of The Papers of James Monroe covers a short but important period in Monroe’s life and career: April 1811 to March 1814. Monroe became Secretary of State in April 1811 and was tasked with trying to repair relations with both Great Britain and France. After war with Britain began in June 1812, his focus broadened to military affairs and included a stint as interim Secretary of War. The bulk of the volume, then, is focused on the War of 1812. However, there are a number of other stories revealed here that will be of interest to a range of historians. Continue reading

Guest Post: Review of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Guest poster Evelyne Martial is a retired attorney. She received her JD from the Cincinnati College of Law. She is currently enrolled in the Gender and Cultural Studies Program at Simmons College.

EHIGH7751_418744arly on a cold, frigid morning in Washington, D.C., my husband and I stood at the tail end of a long, winding line to get into the Museum of African American History and Culture. It was too cold to walk around to view the architecture so we hustled over to the entry line as soon as we exited the cab. As we waited, clutching our prized full-page sized passes, we watched a line of yellow school buses deposit kids from elementary, middle, and high schools into the bright frigid air. Their peals of laughter and rambunctious playfulness resisted the cold air. Their faces, hues of browns and tans bundled in colorful puff jackets, were filled with excitement.  In line, a group of about six or seven women of African descent stood behind us. This group was from Los Angeles, California and had centered their annual get together around the visit to the Museum. They also were uncomfortably cold yet visibly excited about being here, particularly at this moment of our political lives. I wanted to find out more about them, but because it was so cold or the line was already so long at 10:00 a.m., the Museum staff diverted half of our line to another entryway. We lost contact with them and the children as we sped down the plaza to a much shorter line and before we knew it we were inside the Museum. Continue reading

Guest Post: Dress and West African Desire

Jessica Blake is a PhD candidate in U.S. History at the University of California-Davis, where she is completing a dissertation entitled, “A Taste for Africa: Imperial Fantasy and Clothes Commerce in Revolutionary-era New Orleans.” She is currently a dissertation fellow at the Winterthur Museum and Archive.

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

In 1808, the New Orleans trader John Joly placed an advertisement in the Moniteur de la Louisiane for a shipment of large Angola shawls (grands shals d’Angola), a rectangular cloth of African construction meant to drape over the shoulders. Joly marketed the cloth for the general consumer, making no indication that he considered it a product intended solely for use by enslaved or free people of color.[1]
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Guest Post: Questions About the Illicit Slave Trade, State Auctions, and Urban Infrastructure [Cross-Posted]

Todd Burst is an independent scholar who is researching and blogging about the eighteenth century British-African slave trade and the development of capitalism. He is currently writing about how Fante Africans on the Gold Coast vicariously influenced the role of the British state in commerce through the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa. He also runs the Roads to Modernity blog, where he reviews current writings about the history of slavery and capitalism, and occasionally publishes some of his own works. This guest post is cross-posted from his blog.

1_3 PAR20881410_Page_1.jpgIn Antebellum America, Southern municipalities generated revenue by confiscating and reselling illicit slaves through public auctions.[1] In 1807, Congress prohibited the international slave trade, a year later, Louisiana followed suite, but this did not stop the trade. An illicit trade from Africa across the Atlantic continued to supply the America South with slaves. Illegal slaves were forfeited to the state. The Sheriff’s department placed these slaves in prison to await resale to the public. These findings raise questions about the role of the state in the slave trade, property laws, municipal revenues, and contributions of the sale of slaves at “property auctions” to modern city infrastructures.

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