History Co-ops Dive Deep into Academy Archives

Over the spring and summer Drexel University Teaching Professor of History Lloyd Ackert, PhD, mentored a diverse group of co-op students in research projects centered on three Drexel archives and special collections. Exploring the archives of the Academy of Natural SciencesLegacy Center and the Schramm Inc. Collection at University Libraries, the 22 co-op students investigated their own unique and individualized research projects based on their background, interests and career plans.

These research co-ops allow these students to advance their research skills, especially in information literacy — that is, locating, evaluating and using a wide range of sources — and writing. Their production of original research, written materials and other outcomes adds a valuable dimension to their portfolio, useful for applying to graduate programs or with prospective employers. This work can be useful for all careers, but especially in academia, museums, libraries and archives, and in K-12 history teaching, public education, digital media and many other fields.

The research groups collaborated in producing three collected volumes of essays, with each student contributing their own research in a chapter. Collected here are the abstracts for each student research projected, grouped by archive.

A HISTORY OF SCIENCE AT THE ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES

The Jessup Fund: What it Means to be an Employee at the Academy of Natural Sciences, 1896-Today
Marie Gioulis, History
Class of 2022

College students have been contributing valuable time and research to the Academy of Natural Sciences for decades. The goal of this project is to examine the history of student employment at the Academy through the lens of the Jessup Fund, a fund created for the purpose of partial compensation toward student researchers. The project will also focus on defining what it means to be an “employee” versus a “volunteer” and what makes labor valuable. The overarching conclusion points to the fact that student work and volunteer work is invaluable and indistinguishable from regular “employment,” and therefore all students should be fully compensated for their work.

Seeing is Believing: The Evolution of Imaging Techniques and Technology in Advanced Scientific Research Expeditions, 1890-1940
James Patrick Riley, Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Class of 2023

Scientific research expeditions and photographic records are essential tools whose impact on our understanding of the natural world can’t fully be measured. This chapter will include analysis of materials from expeditions conducted under the Academy of Natural Sciences such as Robert Edwin Peary’s Greenland expeditions between 1891 and 1894, as well as more famous expeditions outside of the Academy like Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Arctic expedition between 1914 and 1917. The goal of this project is to analyze the usage and presentation of photography from scientific expeditions during the 50-year period between 1890 and 1940, and how the increased accessibility of photographic technology aided the distribution of information.

Paleoart: The Evolution of the Art of Extinct Life, 1854-2018
Austin Hill, Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Class of 2023

Paleoart is the artform of drawing extinct organisms to represent said subjects in a scientific manner using accurate data. The thesis of my project is to see how this artform has changed from 1854 to 2018 with the science of paleontology over that period of time. I will be using both primary and secondary sources from the time of early paleoart with Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Charles R. Knight to the modern day with works from Mark Witton and the artbook “All Yesterdays.” I will be using the archival sources from the Academy of Natural Sciences on Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, but most of my information will be from primary and secondary sources.

The Acquired Dead: Exotification and Alienation through Academic Colonization, 1798-Present
Nathan Kinsey, Global Studies and Modern Languages
Class of 2023

Decolonization is one of the most important challenges contemporary museums face. This project will be dedicated to a very specific aspect of decolonization: the way museums choose to handle human remains. This project will address questions of traditional colonialism and how it manifests in museums like the Academy, how culture and history can become “claimed” through science, and how the interpersonal relationships of individuals can contribute to these processes. The project will rely heavily upon the stories of George Robbins Gliddon and Samuel Morton to explore these concepts, making use of primary sources surrounding their research and expeditions, correspondence, publications and other documents related to their careers.

Art’s Purpose in Science: The Academy’s Interest in China Explored through Paintings from the 1700s
Scott Schrum, Psychology
Class of 2022

There exists a collection of paintings of plants and animals from China that was gifted to the Academy in 1933. The paintings were acquired through trade in China by Manuel Eyre (1837-1912). The paintings are beautiful; however, they have no clear deeper meaning. Despite this, these paintings were made for a reason and held in the archives of the Academy of the Natural Sciences. In my research I hope to deepen our understanding of these paintings and provide a scientific context for them by exploring the Academy’s other interests in China in the 1930s as well as understanding history of the Eyre family and what led the paintings to be donated in the first place.

Behind the White Curtain: The Decolonization of African Expeditions and their Discoveries, 1930-40
Kris Freyland, Biology
Class of 2024

Many early expeditions were direct results of the ideas of colonialism and supremacy. This chapter will discuss the ways in which these ideas were present in the Vanderbilt African expeditions from 1930-1940 and more importantly will focus on the ways this archival collection can be decolonized to better reflect the contributions of Native populations and their knowledge systems in a more collaborative space. This will be done with the archival expedition journal kept by Harold Green, as well as with the writings of Indigenous cultural studies scholars and archival decolonists.

Meeting Americans: Colonizing Citizens Connecting with their Native Counterparts, 1849-1872
Madalyn Campbell, Psychology
Class of 2022

Some of the greatest experiences in life are the ones that we do not seek out. As a member of a select group of individuals, naturalist and physician Samuel Washington Woodhouse was given the opportunity to engage with Native Americans across the western United States. His journals documenting these journeys from 1849 and 1850 give a unique perspective on the American experience and relationships between the members of an ever-changing nation. In this chapter I will use Woodhouse’s journals as well as other sources to understand the relationship between American citizens and Native American tribes in the mid to late 19th century, and how these relationships shaped the future of the United States.

The Sergeant of the Arctic: The Exploration and Discovery of the North Pole, 1890-1909
Peter Vogric, Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Class of 2023

Matthew Henson is the unsung hero of Robert Peary’s Arctic expeditions from 1890-1909. While he is rarely mentioned when discussing Arctic exploration, his participation was necessary for the success of the expedition. Due to his race, Henson was excluded from much of the accolades and awards that came because of reaching the pole. He went from a cabin boy to Peary’s primary assistant, proving that he could assist in the expedition more than any other member. Using the Academy’s archives of the expedition plans, photos and news articles can create a more vivid picture of Henson’s role on the expedition, as well as his life after. The goal of this project is to investigate Henson’s life and analyze how he was so effective in the Arctic. To get Henson the notoriety of being the first person to reach the North Pole.

Colonial Appropriation of Indigenous Medical Knowledge: Academy Expeditions in the American West, 1850-1900
Inaki ‘Q’ Herrera, History
Class of 2023

Aliens to the new world, colonial settlers entered a vast new world never seen by the west. In their discovery of new wildlife and environments the introduction to Indigenous nations became key to their survival; because of the knowledge passed down by the Indigenous were settlers able to survive and thrive. Yet, subjugation, oppression and war became the means of controlling the new world. Postcolonial history has proven how essential Indigenous involvement was to the creation of Nations throughout the Americas and across the world. With a new ecosystem came foreign diseases, of which Indigenes used the gifts of the earth to cure such ailments. The expansive knowledge of “folk” medicine not only gave way to colonial extended stay but an industry that would reap from New World remedies. In search of bringing recognition to Indigenous contribution and knowledge, this paper attempts to decolonize material from its whitewashed past and acknowledge its origins.

To read about the projects involving the archives of Drexel University’s Legacy Center and the Schramm Inc. Collection at University Libraries, click here to visit the full article on the website of the College or Arts and Sciences.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *