Apply for an AAS research fellowship and learn a trade!

Since the early 1970s, the American Antiquarian Society has been awarding fellowships to enable scholars to come to Worcester and spend anywhere from a month to a year in residence at the Society, immersing themselves in our collections. Many fellows over the years have raved about the richness of the research experience, which is borne out in the use of AAS materials in countless dissertations, articles, and books.

However, an AAS fellowship can also serve as a valuable exercise in professionalization, exposing young scholars to people from other institutions and disciplines and preparing them for the rigors of the academic job search. But given the current depressed state of the economy, the job market in most humanities fields is tighter than ever before. How is AAS responding to this crisis in academic hiring? Why, by reconfiguring its fellowship programs to include valuable vocational training. For example, in the footage below, current AAS-NEH long-term fellow Emily Pawley can be seen preparing herself for an agricultural career.

While this idea may need some additional fine-tuning, we hope that you will consider applying for a fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. More information and application materials are available here.

Fellow finds horse’s head

horse headOne of our great joys working on the far side of the reference desk is when a reader comes up to the desk with the words we all love to hear: “Look what I found!” We always know we are in for a surprise and now we can share these treats with you. (Be sure to read this one through to its hilarious conclusion …)

Background: The American Antiquarian Society began as an institution created to “encourage the collection and preservation of the Antiquities of our country.” “Antiquities” didn’t just mean books and paper, it also meant artifacts. The collecting focus of the library was revised by the early 20th century and the large, disjointed museum collection was donated to appropriate institutions. Here we have a reminder of just the sort of thing a 19th century researcher might have encountered in the old Antiquarian Hall.

Item: An 1817 letter from the first superintendent of the United States Patent Office, William Thornton, to American Antiquarian Society member, Benjamin Russell, editor of the Columbia Centinel.

Found by: Peterson Fellow James Snead, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, George Mason University. horse_head1

Location: American Antiquarian Society Records, Correspondence 1812-1819, Box 2.

Continue reading Fellow finds horse’s head


Under its generous domeFor those of us who have the privilege and pleasure to work everyday with the remarkable collections of the American Antiquarian Society the past is indeed present. Whether we are selecting new acquisitions, cataloging collections, preparing web exhibits, processing photo requests, conserving materials that have seen better days, planning workshops, editing publications, or assisting researchers in the reading room, we often become immersed in the lives of Americans who lived 150, 250, even 350 years ago. By collecting the books they owned, the newspapers they read, the almanacs they consulted, the letters they exchanged, and the prints they enjoyed, we make it possible for researchers to recreate long-ago happenings, reconstruct conflicts and causes, and reclaim from obscurity individuals whose separate stories can now be woven into the larger narrative of our collective history as a people and a nation.

And while all that sounds lofty and terribly (self-)important, it’s also a lot of fun! Through our Past is Present blog, we hope to share with you some measure of our excitement at acquiring a pamphlet that escaped the collecting grasp of our predecessors, our delight in helping a reader solve a research conundrum, and our amusement with the weirdly wonderful things that turn up in the collections here at AAS on an almost daily basis. Many individuals will be contributing to this blog, but I want here to acknowledge the good work of Diann Benti, Tom Knoles, and Elizabeth Pope in getting it launched and keeping it lively.

I often use the word “generous” is describing the relationships that form among the staff and readers at AAS. It is very common for research discoveries to be shared openly, rather than hoarded in a miserly fashion. Readers regularly help each other and take great interest in each other’s projects, as does the staff. There’s a sense of community here that is highly valued, and through the Past is Present we are pleased to include our blog readers in our community as well. In that way, the past will be our present to you.

Try tilting your head just slightly…

They represent a type of carnage we can’t even imagine. Today they would cause more than a few gasps. And, yet unable to rewrite this tragedy, we feast on the spoils.

Okay, I’m being dramatic. But for archivists and librarians the idea that 600 cartoons were cut from Civil War era newspapers is a little hard to handle. Yet with the dirty work already done, the four boxes of cartoons represent a gold mine for scholars of mid-19th century America.

The secret to so much of scholarship is that it matters how you view primary sources. Historian Forrest McDonald spoke to this issue in a 1999 CSPAN interview

When I first worked at National Archives, they just turned me loose in the stacks. Now you’ve got to go in, and you’ve got to tell them what volume you want or what document you want and so on, and you sit down in a waiting room, and they will bring the stuff down for you, and that’s that… Whereas it would have taken generations to do what I did in the early ‘50s, now it couldn’t be done; it simply could not be done.

Of course, full-text searchable databases have unveiled a new type of researching that changes the game once again and offer possibilities unheard of to McDonald’s generation of scholars. But the fundamental fact remains that how you see impacts what you see: Continue reading Try tilting your head just slightly…