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Papers, Layers, and Pastry: Massachusetts Historical Society Fellowships

Papers, Layers, and Pastry: Massachusetts Historical Society Fellowships

I just got my Massachusetts Historical Society newsletter, which contained a poster advertising their fellowship program, which they asked recipients to post. Since school's out for break, I figured I'd do it, after a fashion, right here.

MHS offers a number of short-term (four-week) and long-term (four-to-twelve-month) fellowships for research in their vast and always fascinating collections.  You can find all of the information about them here.

Two years ago, I received one of the short-term fellowships, the Twentieth Century History Fellowship, and spent June 2010 happily ensconced in Boston, researching the Lend a Hand Society's Book Mission. (I just finished the dissertation chapter that uses that research, so I'm feeling especially grateful!) It was a fantastic experience, and I truly loved having the chance to dig into piles and piles of papers in such a wonderful setting--both intellectual and aesthetic.

Intellectually, a pivotal chapter of my dissertation, and the intellectual framework that supports the entire thing, wouldn't be possible without the materials I found at the Society. But the benefits of the fellowship extended beyond subsidized access to an impressive archive. As part of the fellowship program, MHS runs a brown bag series that recipients participate in. Not only was my own presentation a lot of fun, but the others I attended helped me rethink my own work. In particular, being the only fellow that year studying the twentieth century encouraged me to think about deep structures and longer histories in ways that have helped my dissertation immensely.

Aesthetically, well...see for yourself. The photo on the top, above, is one I took of the building that houses the Society. The MHS is actually the lighter-brick structure toward the back of the photograph, with a Berklee College of Music building in the foreground (the presence of which guarantees an intriguing neighborhood). This photo still makes me smile, capturing the view that met me in the morning as I walked from the T stop to the Society. And beyond the building is the Fens, a gorgeous park over which the MHS reading room looks, and which is an excellent place to eat lunch in the summer. And speaking of the reading room, its huge windows, wood paneling, and historical artifacts (see, for example, the angel-on-a-turtle sculpture, above, which greets you when approaching the reading room) make it an excellent place to explore the past.

Additionally, an MHS fellowship makes it possible to explore Boston in the present alongside its past. The last photo is of the North End, where we stayed for the month. The neighborhood was the perfect setting for the project of linking my work to the longer history of the United States, as it is a veritable architectural palimpsest. Our converted nineteenth-century tenement, for example, sat practically alongside Copp's Hill cemetery (founded in 1659 and eternal home of the Mathers and Prince Hall) and just down the street from Old North Church, the legendary starting point of Paul Revere's ride. Our path to the T quite literally followed the Freedom Trail. Walking daily through these layers, exploring their history and their 24-hour pastry shops, was a crucial part of the experience offered to me by a Massachusetts Historical Society fellowship.

So, essentially, my message is to explore ABIGAIL and then APPLY!

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