boston. june. research. Preparing for the Seminar.

At the Shoreline

“At the Shoreline,” Elizabeth Trembley, 2015.

We’re pleased to have Dr. Kabria Baumgartner as our guest blogger this week.  She is an Assistant Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the College of Wooster and a 2015 alumna of the Boston Summer Seminar.  She is currently writing a book on African American women’s education in early America.


boston. june. research. That was my initial introduction to the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar in September 2014.

I was intrigued—first, because the seminar involved faculty-student research collaboration. I had participated in a similar seminar program a few years earlier, and it had been a rewarding experience for me. Second, because I had already planned to visit the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) to conduct archival research for my book project on African-American women’s education in early-nineteenth-century America.

So, boston. june. research. Yes, absolutely!

I decided to apply after consulting the seminar director, Natalie Dykstra. I carefully reviewed the guidelines.

How did I pick my theme?

I was already familiar with the holdings of the MHS, but I still did some ABIGAIL keyword searches on education, race, and gender. I also searched the holdings at the Schlesinger Library. I brainstormed about the broader theme that would combine my research with student interests. I remembered the work of three students in particular who had explored the subject of American higher education in my survey course and in my history of American education course. I settled on the theme, “Women and Higher Education in Nineteenth Century America.”

How did I pick my student team?

I recruited the same three students who had taken my courses and who had expressed interest in the study of American higher education. These students were organized, focused, mature, and independent, which were important characteristics to consider for this kind of off-campus study program. (Please note:  The seminar now asks for two students per research team.)

How did I recruit students?

I was on research leave as I composed the application, and that was a bit of challenge, especially when it came to recruiting students. I emailed the students whom I had in class, and I explained the details of the project, including the thematic focus, the time commitment, the application requirements, and the outcomes. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Natalie was leading it and that our location was in Boston!

How did my students prepare their application?

Three of them were very interested and eager! They composed a letter of interest, a research statement, and resume. I provided copious amounts of feedback on all of these materials, thinking particularly about coherence. I had to make a compelling case for how these “strands of research interests” fit together under the broad theme, “Women and Higher Education in Nineteenth Century America.” (Midway through the application process, one of my students dropped out. Be prepared for things like this!)

What about funding?

Thankfully the GLCA has secured funding for faculty-student research teams. I also checked with my college about providing some funds, which they did. That was a huge help for my students, who were worried that work obligations in the summer might stop them from participating in this project.

What were some of the outcomes?

I tried to be clear with students about my expectations, particularly regarding workload. At the College of Wooster, where I teach, we run a very successful undergraduate mentored research program, Independent Study. I suggested to students that some aspects of their summer research might serve as a basis for part of a Junior or Senior Independent Study research project. Looking back, I wish I had been clearer about this, actually.  One of my students is writing a thesis on the topic pursued through the Boston Summer Seminar program, while the other student is not. In the grand scheme of things, it is not a big deal, as I think both students gained so much in the process, but (maybe selfishly) I wanted both of my students to take the archival research they did and use it for their Junior or Senior Independent Study research projects. So, to my faculty colleagues, as you identify your expectations and outcomes, make sure you tie your students to the project somehow. It could be requiring an on-campus presentation or writing a seminar paper the following semester. Whatever it is, clear educational outcomes are desirable.

So, boston. june. research. Application sent.

Tips for faculty preparing their application

  • do keyword searches for appropriate material at Boston-area archives, including archives that may not be part of the Boston Summer Seminar
  • recruit eager, interested, and mature students
  • provide feedback on student’s application materials before final submission
  • clarify expectations and outcomes

Tips for students preparing their application

  • visit with your college archivist to get a sense of what an archive is and what archivists do
  • do keyword searches for appropriate material at Boston-area archives
  • take time to prepare a strong application
  • seek feedback from your professor and perhaps visit your college’s Writing Center (the skills you learn as you prepare your application for this are transferrable)
  • revise your application materials at least twice
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