This month marks the end of my two-year Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellowship at Bryn Mawr College. Twice a year, CLIR asks all fellows to report on our accomplishment, goals, and challenges, and I’ve decided to make public and expand upon my most recent entry, the exit report. Keeping a copy here, in my little corner of the internet, is a way for me to document the end of one chapter, and also provide future CLIR postdoc applicants a glimpse into the possibilities of such fellowships in the small liberal arts college context. [And if you’re reading this wondering about the many paths of the CLIR fellows, I highly recommend two blog posts from my cohortmates: Emily McGinn on the “interstitial PhD,” and Rachel Deblinger on alt-ac advocacy.]
Since I arrived at Bryn Mawr in July 2014, my Special Collections colleagues and I worked together to build upon the foundations that former CLIR fellow Jennifer Redmond laid over the previous three years setting up a digital hub for women’s history. When I was interviewing, I was told I could set my own agenda during the fellowship, and I used the Greenfield Digital Center platform to expand the sharing of our historic women’s history collections with other libraries, scholars, students, and communities within and beyond Bryn Mawr College. These efforts have tapped into a growing interest in digital history and made a space for asserting that digital histories of women deserve special attention; my location in the library and my increasingly public role on campus meant that I made inroads encouraging undergraduate students to engage with the College Archives.
I am proud of the projects my colleagues and I made possible under the Greenfield Digital Center’s umbrella, particularly in three key areas:
- Building networks: a conference for digital histories of women and gender
With 85 presenters and more than 140 students, faculty, librarians, and stakeholders in the digital humanities in attendance, the second Women’s History in the Digital World conference in May 2015 was a great success, growing from the excitement generated by the initial conference in March 2013, organized by Jennifer Redmond. The 2015 conference also benefited from the support of The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which, among other items, allowed us to record and livestream the conference keynote address by historian Claire Bond Potter. The enthusiasm our participants have shown for the conference demonstrates a continuing need for spaces and gatherings that focus specifically on digital women’s histories. Jennifer Redmond, now at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, is in the process of seeking commitments to organize a future version of the conference in Europe. And along with digital historian extraordinaire Michelle Moravec, I have been working with the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians to put together a digital history program stream for the next “Big Berks” triennial conference, June 1-4, 2017 at Hofstra University. As plans for the future of digital initiatives at Bryn Mawr College continue, I hope my colleagues will consider hosting a third #WHDigWrld conference at Bryn Mawr.
- Supporting undergraduate research in women’s education histories
In addition to providing reference and instruction services to faculty and students interested in women’s history and the College Archives, during my fellowship I supported two major undergraduate student research projects that turned into multi-year partnerships with the Bryn Mawr College Archives. Recent graduate Brenna Levitin, who worked as the Greenfield Center’s summer intern in 2014 and produced the digital exhibit We Are/We Have Always Been: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000, continued to research histories of LGBT alumnae/i through an independent study course with me and Bryn Mawr historian Sharon Ullman in 2015. This year, along with Carrie Robbins, Bryn Mawr’s Curator for Art & Artifacts, I advised Brenna’s senior thesis project in museum studies and LGBT public history, which culminated in a major public program, “Recovering Ourstories.” This kind of student project can reap benefits to the collections and on campus long after grades are turned in: Brenna’s research has led to new oral history and manuscript collections promised to the College Archives due to our combined (and sensitive) efforts at donor cultivation.
Class of 2015 graduates Grace Pusey and Emma Kioko’s Black at Bryn Mawr project continued to make an impact on campus a year after its debut in Spring 2015. A highlight of my year was accepting the National Council on Public History’s 2016 Honorable Mention in the Student Project Award category on Emma and Grace’s behalf — the mention is a major achievement for an undergraduate project and well deserved. One of the last things I did before moving out of my office was to transfer digital files, emails, and other records of the project to our College Archivist, so that future researchers can trace Grace and Emma’s methods, and perhaps use our work as a springboard to new research. And I’m still stunned that 127 people came to our last walking tour, during an excruciating hot day in May (pictured above). I’ve continued to reflect on the experience of researching and advising campus histories as part of the NCPH Working Group Campus History as Public History, and a number of us were featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education last week, suggesting that there is so much more work to do, and many different models for doing so.
In addition, the seminars I have taught through Bryn Mawr’s History Department, Higher Education for Women: Bryn Mawr and Beyond and History in Public: Race, Gender, and Campus Memory have increased visibility of women’s education histories on campus. Not all CLIR fellows get to teach stand-alone classes, and I’ve been grateful for the freedom that my Bryn Mawr department chairs — first Ignacio Gallup-Diaz, followed by Sharon Ullman — gave me to design seminars in women’s history and public history for terrific Bryn Mawr students.
- Digitizing women’s education histories
In Summer 2015 my Bryn Mawr colleagues and I announced the beta launch of the cross-institutional archives portal College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education (collegewomen.org), a collaboration between the institutions once — and often still — known as the Seven Sisters colleges. The site development was funded by a Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and allowed us to begin imagining a resource that could serve both researchers and the casual browser interested in the shared histories of women’s education at some of the first U.S. women’s colleges in the Northeast. [The white paper we wrote for the NEH from the first grant can be read online via the Bryn Mawr College open access repository.] This April, the NEH awarded a $260,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to Bryn Mawr College that will allow the seven libraries to expand digitization efforts beginning in Summer 2016, and I will get to continue on this project over the next 18 months as a member of its scholarly advisory group.
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So where does that leave things?
The Greenfield Digital Center does not have funding for staff in the coming year, but its success in serving as a focal point for research and teaching on the history of women’s education, as well as U.S. women’s history in general, made it a program that has proven its value, even at a reduced level of activity in the last year. There’s so much more I wish I could have packed into 23 months — but the truth of a two-year postdoc is that you spend a good part of year 2 on the job market.
There’s also more I’d like to write in this space over the summer — a reflection on designing and teaching my first public history course, and expanding my AHA 2016 presentation, “Archives Praxis,” in which I considered the various paths by which undergraduates encounter archives and special collections. But I also have new pressures and more deadlines: a move, new syllabi, article drafts in need of finishing.
Next month, I will join the faculty of Colgate University as Assistant Professor of History, teaching in my subfields of U.S. women’s, gender, and sexuality history and public history. My fellowship experience led me to apply to both tenure-track jobs in history as well as library and archives jobs; by moving full-time into a History Department, I can return to my own research, instead of spending the bulk of my time supporting the research of others. It’s a significant shift, in some ways, but most of the time it feels like exactly what my particular fellowship set me up for, because of the hybrid nature of my role in the library that included teaching/advising for an academic department. My fellowship contract even gave me research time — 10 days a year, nothing fancy — but it allowed me to get back to my own projects from time to time, and attend last year’s fantastic American Antiquarian Society summer seminar, “Reading Children.” These weeks of travel and writing were balanced with the day-to-day of library work: Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Yes, some days I’d be reading for my course proposal or editing student work for the Greenfield website, or planning a hands-on session for a class in the archives, but I also spent my fair share of time supervising the reading room (a task shared by Special Collections staff members), attending all-staff meetings, and brainstorming with offices across campus. Still, I mention the research time I received because even in a postdoc where one is hired as staff, there’s often room to negotiate. In my particular case, I benefited tremendously from the flexibility of my supervisors in the library, head of Special Collections Eric Pumroy and Bryn Mawr CIO Gina Siesing.
Over the past two years, I have learned how to work as part of a project team, but I also leave feeling more comfortable in my own skin, as a scholar-in-public. I learned what areas I am most excited about in the library (special collections and archives) and what areas I might leave to the professionals (digital scholarship). I may not be working within the digital humanities in the near future, but I learned its vocabulary and its possibilities. And I’ve grown as a scholar because my professional networks have grown, especially within the library field, in no small part because of CLIR, which funds our annual meetings at sites like CNI and DLF. [My library and archives friends Rachel Appel and Jarrett Drake, from whom my students and I learned so much, tell me I can still go to their conferences…]
So my exit from the library isn’t really an exit at all: I’m excited to collaborate with my new Colgate Special Collections colleagues as a faculty member, and to continue to advocate for digital (and public) forms of women’s and gender history. And I have much more new research to complete for the book; libraries are going to be seeing a lot of me.