29 August 2011
I spent the summer as a research assistant to Professor Keyes, mostly working with the collections at the American Antiquarian Society, a research library just down the street from us! Their goal is to collect everything that came off of a printing press in the British American colonies and the United States before 1876, including books, pamphlets, children’s books, newspapers, magazines, prints, posters, engravings, trade cards, lottery tickets, and all sorts of ephemera. They collect materials from all over the United States; I spent much of the summer immersed in newspapers and magazines from Philadelphia. For a history major interested in American history, you couldn’t ask for a better resource! While many research libraries are not welcoming to undergraduate college students, the American Antiquarian Society is open to everyone who would like to use the collections. In fact, the staff encourages undergraduates to do research. If you ever have a chance to do research at the AAS for a class, make sure to talk to the librarians, curators and archivists about your project. They’re always happy to help!
As a research assistant, I gained first-hand experience with the work historians do. I handled physical copies of newspapers and magazines and used the AAS’ electronic resources as well. I had a chance to meet historians working on a diverse range of interesting projects. As with the AAS staff, the historians and other scholars doing research were excited to see undergraduates in the “reading room” working with the collections. The experience encouraged me to pursue history at the graduate level and helped prepare me for the research history graduate students are expected to do. Working with primary sources gave me a broader picture of American history than that usually given in our textbooks.