In this post, I share my experience of requesting resources from Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library for a research paper in ART102/ARC102: An Introduction to the History of Architecture. I took the Spring 2022 iteration of the course, taught by Professor Basile Baudez and Professor Samuel Holzman. The course provided an overview of architectural history from ancient Egypt to the modern-day through key monuments and architectural movements.
One of my favorite parts of ART102 was our semester-long research project. Students have the opportunity to delve deeper into the history of any building in the Princeton community. My peers covered a wide range of buildings, including Firestone Library, the Graduate College, and the University Chapel. Inspired by my involvement with the Princeton University Art Museum as a student tour guide, I chose to research Bainbridge House (now repurposed as Art@Bainbridge, one of the Museum’s gallery spaces on Nassau Street).
With the COVID-19 pandemic, my ability to participate in lab work, which I had imagined would be a key part of my university experience, was quite limited. While my remote research experiences taught me many interesting skills, such as using computational tools like Gaussian and PyMol, I was eager to start lab work in-person once restrictions allowed for undergraduate research. With my previous remote internship during the Leach Summer Scholars Program, I continued working with the Knowles lab with my summer mentor on a new project. I wanted to share the lessons I’ve been learning after my first few months in the lab which I hope will be helpful and relevant for you!
In the first article of this archival tour, I talked about the process of identifying the proper archives to further your research. But what happens next, once you have the archive, the collection, or the item you want? How do you proceed from there? For the purposes of this article, I will assume you are physically at the archive because we already have somegreatarticles about requesting items from archives that you cannot physically be in. Here, then, I’ll talk about navigating the spaces of the archive and their uses, as well as some facts about archive etiquette.
Instead of dallying around, let’s jump back into the archive!
“I can’t code,” I told my friends when I realized that I had to take a statistics course for my major that required coding. “I don’t understand it,” I told them. I had never coded before and the thought of creating algorithms on a computer sent shivers down my SPIA spine. I loved math in high school, and coding always seemed interesting to me, but rumors about Princeton math courses, as well as computer science courses, had me sprinting away from Fine Hall. But then, I realized I had to take a statistics course for SPIA. I had to face my fear of R, or the programming language that most SPIA statistics courses use for statistical computation. I didn’t think that I could do it, but I did. And, I ended up loving it. I faced my fears, learned how to code, and you can too.
Fall break – a time for rest and relaxation. While I certainly used the time to collect myself after the whirlwind of a more normal semester, I also had to make progress on my junior paper for the History department ahead of its first draft in November. Exploring a consumer’s perspective on post-war nylon riots (1945-46), I had toiled through various online newspaper archives to rack up an impressive number of sources; however, something was missing. I felt like I wasn’t going deep enough. I wanted to find someone’s thoughts on the riot outside of the newspaper databases I had used, which I knew would be a challenging (if not impossible) process that could only be achieved by looking at the archive.
An important tool in the historian’s kit is the archive, which is a trove of various historical documents, materials, and items that can transport you to another time. Given that the archive is a physical location, the pandemic had interrupted much of the on-the-ground work historians do in libraries across the country, much of which was overcome through technology. Thankfully, I was able to access wonderful archives in-person in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA: the University of Pittsburgh Archives and Special Collections as well as the Senator John H. Heinz History Center Detre Library and Archives. Covering a vast array of local and regional history, I was set on taking advantage of these archives’ resources to further my research.
I wanted to use this space, then, to share a bit about (in-person) archival research and what I learned. Regardless of your academic studies or research, archives offer a window into the past that could helpfully contextualize your topic, explore an unknown tangent that can offer up a new perspective, or even just lose yourself in the archive looking at random things. In this article, I will specifically cover the process of identifying an archive and then finding items within that archive.
Bhadrajee Hewage is an accomplished researcher in the humanities – he has conducted research in 5 continents, can speak 12 languages, and has published articles in several magazines and journals as well as his own book on Ceylonese Buddhist revivalism (with a second book on the way)! Bhadrajee graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton in 2020 having majored in History and obtained certificates in South Asian Studies, African Studies, and Latin American Studies. I met Bhadrajee through the Davis International Center where he served as Leader Coordinator. From our first few conversations, I was immediately awestruck with the breadth of research he’s done, and this is why I chose to interview him. His published works range from the early history of Rome and Tanzanian political history to the U.S. Civil War.
He is currently a DPhil Clarendon Scholar at the University of Oxford and recently obtained his degree as the Prize Research MPhil Student at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. Broadly, his research interests lie at the intersection of colonial, religious, and intellectual history.
Beginning a research project is often a daunting task. Often, when I begin a project, I have the vaguest idea of what to research. Sometimes, I don’t know where to begin looking. Given that Firestone is one of the largest open stack libraries in existence, there are literally millions of books, journals, anthologies, and other pieces of literature to sift through. The process of identifying the literature that will propel a research topic is thus often the most tiring part, but thankfully, there is a solution: the wonderful Princeton librarians!
So, who are these librarians?
In fact, each undergraduate student at Princeton is assigned their own personal librarian. This librarian is supposed to act as your direct liaison between the library system and yourself. You can go to them to receive guidance on how to navigate the stacks, learn how to take advantage of different workshops and programs, or even just have a chat. My personal librarian, Ellen Ambrosone, almost always sends me an email every semester to remind me of her services. Often, she also includes a picture of her dog! Regardless, these librarians are meant to be friendly faces in a huge space, so do reach out to them with any inquiries about your research or the library system writ large!
The Princeton University Library system also hosts a large array of different subject librarians, each specializing in their own discipline. For example, Steven Knowlton is one of the subject librarians for both History and African American Studies. Thus, a student interested in a topic pertaining to History and/or African American Studies might want to reach out to him in order to identify literature that may be pertinent to your research topic.
As I just passed the deadline for my junior independent work (JIW), I wanted to explore strategies that could be helpful in composing a research proposal. In the chemistry department, JIW usually involves lab work and collecting raw data. However, this year, because of the pandemic, there is limited benchwork involved and most of the emphasis has shifted to designing a research proposal that would segue into one’s senior thesis. So far, I have only had one prior experience composing a research proposal, and it was from a virtual summer research program in my department. For this program, I was able to write a proposal on modifying a certain chemical inhibitor that could be used in reducing cancer cell proliferation. Using that experience as a guide, I will outline the steps I followed when I wrote my proposal. (Most of these steps are oriented towards research in the natural sciences, but there are many aspects common to research in other fields).
For this Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Doing Research in a Pandemic, each correspondent has selected a researcher to interview about the impact of the pandemic on their research. We hope that these interviews document the nuanced ways the pandemic has affected research experiences, and serve as a resource for students and other researchers. Here, Nanako shares her interview.
For this seasonal series, I decided to interview Emily Mesev, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular Biology. I was interested in how her experience as a graduate student differed from my experience as an undergrad. Because undergrads aren’t allowed to be in the laboratory (at least for Molecular Biology), I’ve had to change my thesis topic and redirect it to become computational. I was excited to find out whether the graduate student experience had changed in similar ways!
It has been about a year since the world turned upside down and Princeton as we know it changed completely. Most students returned to campus this spring, hoping to feel a piece of what Princeton once was. However, many other students stayed home due to safety concerns, or because they knew Princeton wouldn’t be the same. Regardless of the decision, I know that many students, myself included, feel FOMO and like we are missing out on what our four years should have been, both intellectually and socially. However, there is a silver lining. There are ways to stay engaged academically wherever you are, conduct research, and make new connections. So without further ado, here are 6 ways to reduce your Princeton FOMO and make the most of this semester: