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From: Anna
To: Janet, Mark
Date: Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 11:43 PM
Subject: Welcome home!

Hi Mom and Dad,

Well, I’m hoping that you’re both so preoccupied with besting each other at cribbage that you won’t bother to check email until you get home [from vacation] this weekend.  I’m trusting that Brian and Toby [the cat] didn’t murder one another in your absence . . .

Whew, it’s hot and humid here!  We are having Indian Summer with a vengeance and the dorms are insufferable.  I still haven’t caved and bought a fan, which means I get by with cold showers and sleeping naked on top of the sheets.  It’s working in the short term, but if this lasts through the weekend, money may have to be found, regardless of future job prospects, for a small fan. 

I had my first [Department of Conservation and Recreation] internship session today . . . what fun!  B, my supervisor, is a Simmons grad whose specialty is digitization of visual records (photos, art, etc.). Until last year, she worked at Harvard on a number of different projects. Now she’s the plans archivist for the DCR’s Office of Cultural Resources (or OCR, god do people love their acronyms!).  They have a giant basement with all those cabinets with the big file drawers for maps and plans.  I’m working with a subset of the collection of land plans that the DCR inherited from one of its predecessor departments, the Municipal Parks Commission (you guessed it: MPC).  I am starting with the earliest plans, which date back into the 1890s, and many of which come from the Olmsted firm.  The plans are deteriorating and Judy would like to apply for a grant to have conservation work done on them — which can cost as much as $500/sheet.  Like buying reproduction wallpaper for the Cappon House.  So my job is to organize the plans and enter data on each plan into an Excel file (which I will design as I go along) that will serve as an index of what they have for people who need to use the information currently, as well as provide information for writing the grant proposal.

MPC plan detail (Sept 2007)

The maps are very cool!  And it’s easy to get sucked into wanted to know the whole story about them.  Already, I’m thinking about side-research projects into the history of public parkland, landscape architecture, not to mention the history of the maps themselves and the conventions they follow.  The little directional markers alone are beautiful.  (I will try to stay in everyone’s good graces so that, when you guys come out here, Dad, I can take you down for a private tour!  Provided you don’t need a homeland security background check 🙂 . . .)

section of the Charles River Reservation plans (Sept 2007)

I helped lead discussion on postmodernism and history today.  I felt it went so-so, though Laura (prof) was encouraging overall.  People struggled with the readings.  But we did manage to have a discussion, so that in itself felt like a success :).  I got my second response paper back (with my second “check-plus,” which is the highest of her pass-fail marks) . . . I’m gloating to you because I wouldn’t gloat to anyone else: she made it a point to say in class that she’s being stingy with the marks because it’s her job to teach us something in the class, and we have to start somewhere . . . so that if we found ourselves in possession of one of the few check-plusses she handed out, we have something to feel proud about.  (A +! +! +! +! . . .)  She put it nicer than I just did, but you get the point.  I had to be careful not to laugh.  Seriously, though, she wrote “absolutely elegant — you express your sophisticated level of thinking beautifully.” Aww . . . crush just got a little bigger :). 

I’m gingerly making inroads on the friendship front with several colleagues in that class.  Lola (not to be confused with Laura the prof) was my discussion co-leader and we had a lively meeting Monday night to come up with our questions.  She’s a graduate of Smith College, in history, worked as the curator of a small house museum for several years, is now back in school.  Her adviser at Smith was Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz who is like my women’s history idol . . . one of the people who I was soooo disappointed doesn’t teach at a graduate institution.  I very immodestly squealed (yes, I did: “Ohmigod! You had  Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz as your thesis advisor???!!!”) when she mentioned it in passing.  And I’m persisting in making contact with G, although I’m not exactly sure what footing the friendship will take at this point (still trying to figure out: interested in guys? girls? both? neither?).  He’s got a cultural studies/gender studies background and is really interested in themes of resistance and social change.  I sent him a rather long email this evening continuing our classroom conversation of this afternoon, and fingers crossed it won’t scare him away!

I also have a group of students that I’m doing a hands-on archive project with in Archives class (we take a practice collection and have to “arrange and describe” it, and produce a “finding aid,” which is like a detailed catalog entry — as I explained to one girl, think of it as the cross between a card catalog record and an index or detailed table of contents – -that researchers use to figure out what an archives holdings are and whether they would be useful).  I think it’s going to be a fun project — we’re organizing the papers of a woman who was in the army as a dietitian during WWII and an alum of Simmons.

I started preliminary research on my chosen topic for my archives paper, a short paper due in late October about an issue in archival theory/practice.  I chose the interaction between feminist theory/methods and archival practice.  I went to the librarian and she was very nice but suggested I had picked perhaps too narrow a topic, on which there really wasn’t anything written yet.  I said, “Well, I guess I’ve found my niche and it’s not even the end of my first month here!”  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to, you know, write a body of theory and publish it in peer-reviewed journals in time to write a paper for class in which I referred to my own scholarly research :).  So I am left piecing together stuff in innovative ways (what’s new?) . . . N (librarian) was a little bit nudging me to consider re-orienting my topic slightly, but I wasn’t giving in.  I mean, it’s only a 5-7 page paper for gods’ sake, I think I can manage to write a literature review of what’s out there in that length of text without exhausting my argument.

For my history paper (roughly the same size), I’m supposed to take a primary document to analyze; I chose something from the Oneida Community which touches on gender and education and communitarian values . . . so there’s plenty to sink my teeth into.  I was tempted by a more contemporary memoir on 1980s feminism that I stumbled into on one of the databases, but it felt a little like cheating (too recent) so I let it pass.

[You can read the paper that resulted here at Simmons’ Essays and Studies literary journal]

I did, however, sign up for a series of lectures/discussions hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Schlesinger Library called the Boston Series on Women and Gender in History: four times over the semester they get together and discuss a paper (as yet unpublished) with the author and a “commentator” over dinner.  $20 for the whole series!  It would have been obscene to pass it up, especially since the topics are all awesome.  Unfortunately, the first two conflict with my History class, but I’m going to try and squirm out of one class, since the topic is gender in the Vietnam era and I just can’t miss it. 

view from Spectacle Island (Sept 2007)

Well, I really ought to get to bed. Early day at work tomorrow . . . and then a packed weekend of reading, so that I can frivol on Sunday — fingers crossed I have time to visit the Harbor Islands, and then I’m, watching The History Boys over a bottle of wine with Hanna [yes, this was more me-style flirtation] — and then my [job] interview with the MHS on Monday!  Send lots and lots of good karma waves in my direction.  Natalie [a friend and former MHS research fellow] is in town and she is going to put in a good word as well (she assures me this is kosher). 

Lots of love . . .