Apprentice with the Emma Goldman Papers
What motivated you to apply to URAP?
In my freshman year, I started to look for opportunities to get some research experience. While reading the URAP project descriptions I came across the Emma Goldman Papers, and it attracted me because I am interested in the time period around World War I. I applied at the beginning of my sophomore year and was accepted, and it’s been a lot of fun.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I am sifting through WWI era newspapers trying to find traces of pacifists and conscientious objectors. President Wilson at the onset of the war said it was fine to be an objector and a pacifist, but toward the end of the war those objectors were jailed and the pacifist organizations were shut down.
What format do those papers come in? Are you looking at online archives or microfiche records?
Usually it is a combination of online archive and microfiche. Whenever I can, I use the online archive because working with the microfiche records makes me dizzy after a while. But whenever there is not much there other than information about the big figures, I go to the microfilm room and try to flush out more detailed information about lesser known figures.
What does a search look like, practically speaking?
Usually, Barry [Pateman, the associate editor of the Emma Goldman Papers and primary mentor for this project] gives me the name of an organization, and I will search for anything about that organization. I tend to find the names of the leaders, and I focus on those names that come up frequently. Often, it turns out that the same people who ran one organization also are part of several other pacifist organizations with different names in order to elude government interference. Once you pick up on the trail of someone you haven’t necessarily heard of before but who seems to have been involved a lot, you go back and look more in depth for that person and see what comes up. If there is not a lot to be found online, I continue in the microfilm room.
Does any of this ever get a little repetitive?
At times, and especially when I am just starting out looking for names, it can get a little tedious. But it really helps if you can break it up a little. I usually work about twelve hours a week, but my schedule is very flexible. I don’t need to do everything in two big sittings; I can go in between classes and work for two hours or so.
Where do you do the work?
I do some of the online work from home and also a lot at the library, because it helps me to keep focused – too many distractions at home! I don’t usually do a lot of work directly at the Emma Goldman Papers Center, but I check in with Barry once or twice a week at our regular meetings to let him know where I am, and to discuss new ideas. I can also email or call him anytime if I run into any issues. It has happened that I tried to track down a discrepancy and it turned out there simply wasn’t a way to reconcile the issue. I call Barry when I feel that I have hit a wall, and he is definitely very accessible and supportive, which is very helpful.
Is there anything about research that surprised you when you started about two semesters ago?
I went in thinking that it would be immediately exciting and engaging, but I realized that it is one of those things, like so many things, where you have to build yourself up to become invested in the material before you get all excited about it. I started out tracking arrests during WWI, and at first I would sit there for six hours or so – I didn’t really think about breaking up my time or anything – and I would sit there thinking “I am so hungry!” After about month I figured out my level of concentration and time frames that work for me.
What do you appreciate the most about this experience?
First of all, it has really opened my eyes to the history of this time period. The Emma Goldman people are a network of people who are really invested in this topic, and it is inspiring to be with a group of such dedicated people – it makes me feel like I am part of something exciting and bigger. Every day when I look at some material I think about how it is likely that no one has looked at this since it was written – it feels like I am uncovering new things, that I am contributing.
Any more advice for potential applicants?
Many times, especially in the beginning, the material can be very minute and abstract, compared to looking at a textbook for example – you are looking at material that will inform a textbook. You have to find what really clicks with you. Whether it is the idea of doing research itself and contributing to something bigger, or some information in the material that you find. Sometimes, when things get a bit tedious while looking at the newspapers, I start to look at what else is there. Outside of what I am looking for there is a bigger narrative about social issues that were going on at the time, and that is just as exciting.
Have you been able to apply your newly developed research skills in other contexts?
This semester I am working on a research paper for one of my classes for which I am looking at colonial newspapers, and I realize how helpful it has been to be able to know how to navigate the different websites, which can be very obtuse, and to pick through these newspapers to find what is relevant without getting lost. I realized that if I had gone into this without having worked with the Goldman Papers, I would have been swimming in a sea of irrelevant information. I also learned how to take very efficient notes – this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but writing a lengthy historical paper having efficient notes can be such a time saver.
I should also ask, what is the least favorite aspect of it all?
When I started, Barry had me go into the microfiche room and he knew that this was going to get me nauseous. He calls it the dungeon. So I guess working with the microfiche is my least favorite, but at the same time I like the information I can find by looking at these archives.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Well, I think it is important to have a realistic idea about what might be happening. It is not that you’ll be making pioneering discoveries every day, but on a smaller scale, there are some discoveries to be made for sure. I strongly recommend the experience to everyone. It has really enriched my experience here because it is something outside of the classroom where you can see what is happening in a historical context.
Thank you very much!