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Newberry Seminar Research Topics Span Millennia and Raise Intriguing Questions

Newberry Seminar Research Topics Span Millennia and Raise Intriguing Questions November 25, 2013

In one of the highlights of the Newberry Seminar: Research in the Humanities each year, this fall’s participants recently gave the final presentations on their research projects, which are the major focus of the program.

The topics they’ve tackled spanned millennia – from the writings of ancient Greek historian Herodotus to hypertext literature spawned by the advent of the Internet – and reflected both the breadth of the students’ intellectual curiosity and their intense engagement with the rich, multifaceted collections at the Newberry Library.

The primary source materials the students used were drawn from many areas in the library’s holdings – Civil War era letters and lithographs, captivity narratives from the American West, transcripts of Congressional hearings, maps from Chicago’s early decades, and centuries-old documents from colonial New Spain, to name a few.

Fall 2013 Newberry Seminar participantsFall 2013 Newberry Seminar participants.

The students raised intriguing historical questions – Why did mapmakers at one time depict California as an island? How could a single county in Missouri create a neutral “kingdom” within the cauldron of the Civil War? What triggered anti-Semitic riots in post-World War II Chicago?

A cast of characters, both real and fictional, sprang to life in the course of the afternoon’s presentations – an Italian Renaissance fashionista who dispensed sartorial advice to European royalty; a composer striving to create an “authentic” American style of music based on Native American chants; drunkards falling victim to devilish liquor; and the famous Sherlock Holmes, portrayed as an “everyman” of the rising professional class in Victorian London.

After each group of students gave their presentations, they participated in panels for discussion with the audience, which included Newberry Library staff, librarians, and research fellows. According to Diane Dillon, Director of Scholarly, Undergraduate, and Exhibition Programs at the Newberry, the program faculty and library staff members make a point throughout the semester of encouraging the students to take advantage of the research expertise and knowledge of the collections found among the community of scholars at the Newberry.

The students’ engagement with the Newberry community was evident during the discussion periods, as members of the audience asked questions, suggested other sources to consult, and offered additional perspectives for the students to consider.

Read about the Fall 2014 Newberry Seminar visiting faculty and topic:

Knowledge & Technology: from Socrates to the Digital Age

The seminar is organized around a broad, interdisciplinary theme and is co-taught by a pair of visiting faculty. This fall, Colorado College professors William Davis (Comparative Literature and German) and Eric Perramond (Environmental Science and Southwest Studies) are leading the seminar on the theme “Representing the Other in Image, Text, and Landscape.”

The opening weeks are always devoted to familiarizing the students with the Newberry’s collections and helping them develop their research skills during intense seminar-style discussions. Increasingly, with individual guidance from the faculty, the students then turn their attention to developing their individual projects, conducting research, and writing a substantial research paper.

With just over two weeks remaining in the semester, Davis and Perramond noted, the presentations signaled that the students are in the home stretch, as they continue to revise their papers.

“One of the challenges that we’ve worked on with the students is to move them from just giving information to really having an argument sustained, that they are developing and supporting in their papers,” said Davis. “What’s the argument, what’s your point [in your research project] that’s adding something to the scholarship on this topic? Hearing the presentations today has been gratifying, with all that they’ve put together.”

Fall 2013 Newberry Seminar participants and their research topics

  • Colin Andrews, Earlham College – “Mapping Boosterism: Cartographic Conceptions of Chicago (1833-1868)”
  • Elizabeth Campbell, Luther College – “The Indianist Music of the Wa-Wan Press: Early Attempts to Create an American Musical Identity”
  • Jack Canfield, Lawrence University – “Imagined Islands”
  • Victoria Clark, Gustavus Adolphus College – “Women of the US-Dakota War: Navigating Racial and Gender Otherness Through Accounts of Captivity”
  • Megan Connolly, Albion College – “Demon Rum and Fallen Drunkards: The Displacement of Blame in Nineteenth Century Temperance Fiction”
  • Anna Cornel, College of Wooster – “Examining the Mirror of Herodotus: Oppositional Writing and Hellenic Identity in The Histories
  • Daniel Gonzalez, Earlham College – “Books, Codexes, Maps: Nahuatl Writing Practices”
  • Jane Huffman, Kalamazoo College – “Paper With Moving Parts: Printing Technology and the Visual Poem”
  • Austin McKenney, Grinnell College – “Practice and Policy: Peyotism and the United States Government in the Twentieth Century”
  • Harris Miller, Lake Forest College – “The History of the Jews in Chicago: How They Were Treated as the ‘Other’ and Relations Between Them”
  • Courtney Morgan, Colorado College – “The Clothes Make the Woman: Isabella d’Este’s Manipulation of Fashion and Power”
  • Millie Osburn, Coe College – “Armed Neutrality: The Kingdom of Callaway in 1860 and 1960, Callaway County, Missouri”
  • Karlyn Schumacher, Ripon College – “On the Margins of History: Native Americans and the Civil War”
  • Dana Sly, Grinnell College – “‘Is There Any Other Point Which I Can Make Clear?’: Sherlock Holmes and the Construction of a Professional Class Identity in The Strand Magazine


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