Guide to the Rare Books and Special Collections

On Friday morning, I encountered a manuscript no historian had studied before. I was on the C Floor of Firestone in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, finding it hard to believe my luck. I had asked Gabriel Swift, the Reference Librarian for Special Collections, if he knew of any interesting primary sources connected to my Junior Paper topic, an 1805 Lenape religious revival led by a woman named Beate. In response, he connected me with this new acquisition, a handwritten journal from 1774. Just this year, he explained, the University had purchased it at auction in Paris. And because it was from a private collection, the source was previously unknown to academics.

“‘Journal of the Expedition down the River Ohio Under the Command of his Excellency John Earl of Dunmore Lieutenant and Governor General of his Majesty’s Colony and Dominion of Virginia 1774.”

This is just one example of the magic of Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC).

According to the RBSC website, “its holdings span five millennia and five continents, and include around 300,000 rare or significant printed works.”

With just a few simple steps, you can see one of the first “Wanted” posters for John Wilkes Booth, Beethoven’s music manuscripts, or Woodrow Wilson’s love letters. It is one of the most fabulous and underutilized research resources on campus – especially for historians. As undergraduates, we have nearly complete access to the collections. Continue reading Guide to the Rare Books and Special Collections

Your New Favorite (Free) Online Resource

Have you ever wanted to learn how to use Photoshop? How to write code in multiple programming languages? How to use Excel? InDesign? Adobe Illustrator?

My new favorite online resource.

This semester, as part of my Urban Studies Certificate, I’m taking ARC 205, an interdisciplinary architectural design studio. Like most studio classes, we meet for six hours a week to develop our drawing, design, and analysis skills. Each week our instructors present us with a new drawing assignment designed to improve our architectural analysis skills. Pretty much everything we’re learning in this class is totally new to me. I’ve never really drawn – aside from doodles on my notes – and most of our assignments are far outside of my comfort zone. There hasn’t yet been a week when I’ve felt confident about my work, but in the past week, I’ve discovered a resource that might change that.

Continue reading Your New Favorite (Free) Online Resource

Collaborating with Graduate Students

Sometimes graduate students are the older siblings you didn’t know you had.

In my Orange Key tours, I always emphasize how exciting it is to be an undergraduate student at Princeton. Unlike many other leading research institutions, Princeton maintains a strong focus on undergraduate teaching. This results in an unusual dynamic between undergraduates and graduate students on campus. In general, the two populations are pretty segregated. Aside from the preceptor-student relationship (and, of course, the ReMatch relationship), I haven’t encountered a whole lot of avenues for collaboration between undergraduates and graduate students in our research projects.

Map of Northeastern Native tribes (ca. 1710), the subjects of my JP research

Continue reading Collaborating with Graduate Students

How to Research and Watch Movies at the Same Time

Until recently, I only watched TV and movies in order to decompress. There’s nothing quite like lying in bed after a long day, lulled to sleep by my favorite Netflix show. Requiring minimal effort, movies acted as a brief escape from my reading- and writing-heavy coursework.

Like many Princeton students, though, I sometimes felt guilty choosing to watch TV over, say, finishing my readings for precept the next morning. But a few weeks ago, my professor introduced me to an invaluable resource called Kanopy. Completely free for all Princeton students and faculty, this site provides over 30,000 films for streaming on any device. But Kanopy isn’t just another Netflix or Hulu: it’s specifically designed for use in research institutions.

Kanopy offers a wide range of free films, specially curated for students and professors.

Continue reading How to Research and Watch Movies at the Same Time

Graduate Student Reflections: An Interview with Jonathon Catlin

This semester, in our spring series, PCURs will interview a graduate student from their home department who either is currently a graduate student at Princeton, or attended Princeton as an undergraduate. In Graduate Student Reflections: Life in Academia, interviews with graduate students shed light on the variety of paths one can take to get to graduate school and beyond, and the many insights gained along the way from research projects and mentors. Here, Rafi shares his interview.

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Jonathon Catlin, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History.

Jonathon Catlin is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History, focusing on intellectual responses to the Holocaust. Before beginning at Princeton, he earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago in Jewish Studies and Fundamentals: Issues and Texts and his M.A. in philosophy from KU Leuven in Belgium. A few days ago, I sat down with him in Chancellor Green café to hear about his research journey and some of what he’s learned along the way.

How did you arrive at your current research topic?

I was a junior in high school and, for whatever reason, I decided to take a course called “The Holocaust in History, Literature, and Film” at Harvard Summer School. Why I chose it I don’t know, but the rest is history. Holocaust representation and its intersections with philosophy, religion, literature, film — all in a sort of historical context — is essentially what I’ve been working on for about eight years now, bouncing around multiple disciplines.

My dissertation is hopefully going to be on the concept of catastrophe in modern European thought – a project I’ve been working on since my first year of undergrad. I guess the newest thing for me about coming to Princeton is that I’m in a history department now, which is just totally different than the interdisciplinary humanities focus that I was used to.

Continue reading Graduate Student Reflections: An Interview with Jonathon Catlin

Visualizing Your Argument

The blank page at the very beginning of the writing process is one of the most difficult stages for me. I struggle with how to get started and feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of me.

To avoid this blank page, I open a Word Document called “Notes” early on in the research process. As I sort through the ever-accumulating pile of books and articles on my desk, I copy the relevant quotes into the document, followed by the author’s name and the page number. Typically, only a fraction of these quotes actually make it into the paper, so it can be hard to know when to stop. The metric I’ve figured out is: when the notes document is double the length of the assignment, I know it’s time to begin drafting the paper.

Film editor Walter Murch helped me rethink my editing process.

As I write, this document becomes my primary resource for information and direct quotes. Because it’s consolidated in one file, it’s easily navigable and searchable. Sometimes, I reorganize the quotes into sections to guide my paragraph structure and overall argument.

In the past, this system has worked well for me. But in the past few weeks, two of my teachers have modeled an exciting new approach to organizing research materials: visual mapping. Continue reading Visualizing Your Argument

Recommend a Purchase: The Princeton Wish List

The Princeton University Library system features over six million unique titles. So when you discover a book not already in the system, you know you’ve found a niche topic.

This semester, I’m taking a course called “Modern India: History and Political Theory” taught by Visiting Professor Sunil Khilnani. In the course, we examine primary sources from the major actors in the Indian nationalist movement.

Recommending a book purchase is as easy as online shopping!

Interested in indigenous politics in India, I asked Professor Khilnani if I could write my midterm paper on the Adivasi (Indian tribal societies) role in Independence – even though we haven’t addressed this topic in class. He suggested I focus on Jaipal Singh, a major twentieth-century Adivasi activist, and sent me a list of primary and secondary sources to consider. Specifically, he recommended using the recently published collection of Singh’s speeches and writings, Adivasidom. Continue reading Recommend a Purchase: The Princeton Wish List

What I Learned from Reading Foucault’s Early Work

Until recently, I hadn’t reflected on the fact that what we read for class is carefully curated. As we all know, our professors dedicate immense amounts of time to selecting and refining the list of readings for our courses. Ideally, these readings reflect the essential sources on a particular subject. However, as with any selection process, the developing syllabus is filtered through certain ideological and methodological biases, not to mention the practical constraints of the course.

In my experience, professors tend to be transparent with their students about this curatorial process. In class, we often discuss why certain scholars were selected over others, and receive recommendations for further reading. Yet, I don’t often reflect on these selected works of scholarship in the context of their authors’ personal intellectual evolution.

A young Michel Foucault

When selecting secondary sources, professors typically choose a scholar’s most established works and arguments. With such limited time to cover material, our semesters only have space for “greatest hits.” These works tend to articulate coherent ideas, argue something new and critically important, and reflect a consistent methodology. Often, they’re masterpieces of scholarship.

Continue reading What I Learned from Reading Foucault’s Early Work

Learning a Language Off-Campus

According to its website, Princeton offers courses in about twenty modern languages. Sounds pretty comprehensive – until you consider that the world has literally thousands of distinct living languages.

World languages by proportion of native speakers

As I start preparing for my independent work next year, I’m thinking a lot about language ability, especially as it relates to primary source access. For non-Anglophone historical research, facility in the region’s language/s is essential to original scholarship. Personally, I’m interested in Eastern European Jewish history. The good news: I only really need one language to study primary sources from this period. The bad news: it’s not one of the twenty offered on campus.

Continue reading Learning a Language Off-Campus

Tips for Conquering the New York Public Library

Firestone is my favorite Princeton resource – but it has its limits, especially when it comes to primary source material (see my previous post). If I can’t access a source through Firestone, my next step is generally the New York Public Library system. NYPL offers not only a beautiful place to study, but also a wide range of primary source material in their public collections.

I recently spent a day at the Schwarzman building on 42nd and 5th in order to access a microfilm copy of a Yiddish periodical published by Holocaust survivors in 1946. This was my first time researching at the NYPL and working with microfilm (the small reels of film used to store documents in pre-digitization libraries) – so I learned a lot in my few hours there.

My well-angled selfie in front of the Schwarzman building

Continue reading Tips for Conquering the New York Public Library