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

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

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

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

How to Write a History Research Paper

When writing a history research paper, the right approach is key. Sitting outside, like the above student, may be helpful, but also consider heading to a library for a more focused atmosphere–and larger tables to spread out your notes!

In my last post, I shared some tips on how to conduct research in history and emphasized that researchers should keep in mind a source’s category (transcript, court document, speech, etc.). This post is something of a sequel to that, as I will share some thoughts on what often follows primary-source research: a history research paper.  Continue reading How to Write a History Research Paper

Historical Research With Primary Sources

“They had dynamite.” This transcript of a conversation with three NAACP leaders illustrates the very real threat of danger these activists faced during the Little Rock Public School Integration Crisis.

After much consideration, I have settled on concentrating in the History Department. Consequently, this semester finds me taking several courses with a historical bent. Thus far in these classes, I have been immersed in the theory and practice of historical research. Today, I’d like to share some of the highlights from my experiences in History 280: Approaches to American History. Continue reading Historical Research With Primary Sources

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

When Borrow Direct Isn’t Enough: Accessing the New York Public Library

Borrow Direct is my favorite feature of the Princeton library system. If you’re ever hunting for a book and it’s not available at Princeton, the Borrow Direct program allows you to order the book free of charge from another university library. A few days after your order, you receive an email that your book has arrived, and you pick it up from the front desk – where it is wrapped in paper and marked with your name. It’s like Hannukah, but all the time.

The joy of Borrow Direct isn’t limited to campus. Over the summer, when I needed to do research at Brown University’s library, the Borrow Direct system gave me unlimited access to the library there and enabled me to check out books with nothing more than my PUID. I was even allowed to reserve a carrel for the entire summer — which I did.

Carrels at Brown University’s Rockefeller Library

Continue reading When Borrow Direct Isn’t Enough: Accessing the New York Public Library

The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Beatniks, Buddhists, and Me

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project That Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Vidushi shares her story.

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“Walk around the classroom,” he said, without glancing up from the class roster, “and select a photo. Choose carefully.”

A slight murmur arose in my high school US history classroom as we slung our backpacks in a corner and surveyed the U-shaped desks papered with old ink photographs. My teacher, a stout volunteer firefighter with a white-flecked beard, gave away only a slight smile. As he called time, I hastily grabbed a picture of a judgmental-looking man in tortoise-shell glasses.

“The picture in your hands will be the subject of your semester-end term paper,” my teacher announced. “Choices are final.”

Thus began the first project that made me feel like a researcher, and one of the most valuable intellectual experiences I had in high school.

A high school project started my journey — but the journey continues on campus!

Continue reading The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Beatniks, Buddhists, and Me