One of the most unique aspects of Students and Faculty in the Archives was the annual SAFA Summer Fellowship – there is no undergraduate research fellowship like it in North America. It is a replicable program that could be funded and facilitated at archives around the world.
[expand title=”Fellowship Goals” tag=”h3″]The fellowship gave select students the opportunity to build on the fundamental document analysis skills they learned in SAFA class visits. Fellows engaged in in-depth primary and second source research, used critical thinking skills to develop arguments, and participated in group and individual projects. By the end of the fellowship, the SAFA fellows produced a small group-curated exhibit, completed an individual scholarly or creative project, and delivered a public presentation.
Through a lunchtime speaker series, fellows also interacted with a wide range of BHS staff and learned about different career opportunities in the fields of museums and archives. This career coaching was a secondary goal for the fellowship.
About half of the fellows had declared a major or had clear professional aspirations. Many were enrolled in pre-professional programs like architecture, pharmacy, or radiology. The fellowship allowed these students to become more well-rounded candidates for career-specific internships, jobs, or graduate school programs.
The fellowship also enabled students who were undeclared or unsatisfied in their current major to experiment with and gain new insight on their skills, interests, and goals.
[expand title=”The Collection” tag=”h3″]In both 2012 and 2013, the SAFA Summer Fellowship centered around the Gabriel Furman papers (ARC.190). Gabriel Furman (1800-1854) was a lawyer, politician, and historian of early Brooklyn. He was also a prolific – even obsessive – journal writer. This archival collection includes 13 of Furman’s journals dating from 1815 to 1854 and totaling almost 5,000 pages. Furman documented his personal observations about Brooklyn and New York and recorded historical items relevant to his writing and lectures.
The collection was an ideal fit for the fellowship because any student could find something related to his personal, academic, or professional interests. Among the wide diversity of topics found in the journals are epidemics of cholera and yellow fever, financial crises, daily weather conditions, theatre and the arts, agriculture, urban development, politics, and religion. Because there were multiple copies of similar – but not exact – items (13 bound journals), it also served a program of this size well.
[expand title=”The Application Process” tag=”h3″]All students who visited Brooklyn Historical Society throughout the year with a SAFA course were invited to apply to this rigorous summer research experience. After their final class visit to the archives, students heard a short pitch for the fellowship and received the following promotional materials:
Fellowship brochures (see 2012 and 2013)
In their application, students were asked to articulate why, based on their class experience in the archives, they wanted to participate in the fellowship. Although they did not need to submit a full proposal for a research project, they were also asked how they would approach such a project.
[expand title=”Fellowship Requirements” tag=”h3″]SAFA fellows were required to be present in the BHS library 3 days per week, for 4 hours a day (plus one hour for lunch). They were also expected to work an additional 3 hours per week outside of group hours (fellows could complete these hours at home or off-site, or they could stay 1 hour each day in the library until it closed). By the end of the fellowship period, they had to help curate a physical exhibit, complete their own individual research project, and present their findings at a public event.
If students met all fellowship requirements, they received a $1,000 stipend in 3 installments. Most fellows participated in the fellowship while also undertaking summer coursework, employment, or significant family obligations.[/expand]
[expand title=”Student Projects” tag=”h3″]Fellows selected and researched a topic of interest in the Gabriel Furman papers. Under the guidance of SAFA staff, fellows constructed an argument based on primary and secondary source research and crafted a final project based on their theses. Projects were scholarly or creative, and took many forms: informative presentations, walking tours, web-based projects, performing or visual arts, and more.
[expand title=”The Exhibit” tag=”h3″]SAFA fellows helped curate Exploring the Journals of Gabriel Furman, an exhibit on an opinionated, passionate, and quirky Brooklynite. Furman (1800-1854) was 1 of 19th-century Brooklyn’s most avid chroniclers. From 1815 until his death, he wrote regularly in his journals, offering colorful commentary on everything from life as a bachelor to yellow fever and cholera, from Brooklyn history to Jacksonian politics.
In the exhibit, the student fellows analyzed both Furman and the changing Brooklyn in which he lived. Between his birth and death, Furman participated in and chronicled 19th-century Brooklyn’s remarkable transformation from a quiet agricultural hamlet into 1 of the largest cities in America.
In 4 small groups, students selected and transcribed journal entries, conducted secondary source research, wrote exhibit labels, and made suggestions about what other objects to include in the exhibit.
The 2012 fellows focused on Furman’s observations on the 1832 cholera epidemic, his depictions of African Americans, his commentary on the Mormon religion, and his documentation of the changing built environment of Brooklyn Heights. The 2013 fellows focused on Furman’s obsessive interest in book collecting, his attitudes towards gender and courtship, his documentation of the changing urban environment, and his recording of small-scale agriculture in Brooklyn.
[expand title=”An Evolving Program” tag=”h3″]Conducting the fellowship twice allowed us to tweak and refine the program (much like teaching over 2 academic years allowed us and the SAFA professors time to revise and polish in-archives activities).
In the first year, the fellowship was a month-long experience. Based on feedback from the 2012 fellows, SAFA staff made the 2013 fellowship a 5-week experience to give students more time to complete their projects.
In the first academic year (2011 – 2012), students from both the fall and spring semesters were required to apply by the same deadline, which fell at the end of the spring 2012 semester. Unfortunately, no students from a fall semester course applied for the fellowship. Staff learned from this experience and created 2 deadlines for applications in the 2012 – 2013 academic year: 1 in the fall and 1 in the spring. As a result, in 2013, 6 fall students applied, and 2 were accepted.
In 2012, students turned in weekly reflections and homework assignments directly to staff, but in the second year, staff decided to create an online blog where students would submit their work. This created an invaluable record of student progress, visible to all on the 2013 fellowship site under For Fellows > Assignments.
[expand title=”Testimonials” tag=”h3″]At the end of the program, SAFA fellows took some time to reflect on their experiences. Here’s what they had to say:
SAFA fellows appreciated the opportunity to learn and hone many skills, including document analysis, public speaking, time management, transcription, exhibit curation, and others.
“The fellowship helped me improve my research skills. It sharpened my view of how I can approach a problem or project from different sides…I discovered that a subject could be viewed from more than 1 point.”
“I learned to transcribe readings. Usually if I can’t understand someone’s writing I’d skip it. But through SAFA I stayed focused, concentrated and was able to read and understand often difficult-to-read handwriting.”
“I learned to be more independent and [to make] my own decisions regarding my work.”
“Before the fellowship I would primarily use the internet to do my research. With this fellowship I have grown [to use other] sources.”
“[Planning the exhibit was] a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was amazing to learn the behind-the-scenes work.”
“As a SAFA fellow I learned to be very simple when writing historical information. I [was] also able to learn to narrow down research to key points, to stay on task, and to take correction positively. [The program] helped me understand what it means to research; it also gave me the chance to speak with people who really helped me think about the different aspects of history. …It gave me a chance to delve into what I love … there should be more programs like this.”
“I learned how to better my skills [when on] a deadline. I learned how to cross reference … and how to use other primary sources and secondary sources to support my research.”
“I became a better writer because of the feedback I received. I always felt supported and encouraged.”
Mentoring Young Scholars
Fellows expressed new confidence in their scholarship, and discussed how their work shaped their identities.
“I have grown as a scholar and researcher during my time [in the fellowship]. This … has been the most extensive research I’ve ever conducted, but I enjoyed every minute of it because I was acquiring so much knowledge. It was a very … exciting experience.”
“Just to research the Furman journals and be a part of the [Historical] Society gave me the feeling of a scholar.”
“Before the program began, I didn’t have enough confidence to even consider myself a scholar. I am grateful [to] the SAFA fellowship for showing me that I have great ideas and insights. I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and I came out of this experience feeling confident in my intellect and scholarly work.”
Learning from Each Other
Fellows loved working and collaborating with colleagues whose interests and career goals were often different than their own.
“What I loved was the freedom that I had in pursuing my project … I loved that I was the only architect student … I found it extremely helpful to have such a diverse group [of fellows] because we learned [about] each others’ different professions.”
“I enjoyed my time here, met new people, learned new skills and I just don’t want to leave. I feel slightly wiser and I would love to be part of a fellowship like this again.”
The program opened many SAFA fellows to new career ambitions and opportunities.
“The SAFA fellowship opened my eyes to exploring new career goals that I had not considered before.”
“SAFA has set new career goals for me. I came in as an ex -nursing student and am leaving as a (hopefully) graphic designer. It was such an enriching experience.”
“[The fellowship has] definitely made me rethink what I want to study in school. I feel like there are a lot of areas in this line of work I would succeed in. …now my interest may lean towards history.”
“By researching in health and medicine, I found a new interest that may lead to a future career. I’m glad I took the time to expose myself to something different.”
For other students, it enriched the career paths that they had already chosen.
“I’ve got a drawing displayed in a museum to the public. The program helped to challenge [you] and made you challenge yourself. And now thinking about it, working for a museum … sounds fun.”
“I discovered a new interest and might go on to explore the architecture and history of Brooklyn and NYC.”
“Even though the major focus was history, I was able to improve my design skills as I was creating my website.”
A Life-Changing Experience
Many students felt transformed by their time as a SAFA fellow.
“This is an amazing experience and is one that that will live with me for the rest of my life.”
“I feel more responsible since starting the fellowship, and I never truly realized how significant history is to me and many others.”
“This was the most difficult project I’ve ever done but I came out of it happy and as if I accomplished something great.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship. The work was hard and the research was harder, but I have been able to build on so many skills. I am truly grateful for this opportunity.”
“It is a priceless experience and I feel so lucky to have been involved.”
Interested in creating an undergraduate summer fellowship at your library, archives, or museum? We’d love to see similar programs! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Julie Golia and Robin M. Katz, “SAFA Summer Fellowships,” TeachArchives.org, accessed [insert date here], http://wwww.teacharchives.org/project/summer-fellowships/.