By Kate Melchior
Are you a student who loves history? Are you a teacher with students who are intrigued by primary source research? Want the chance to spend some time in the MHS archives? Check out the fellowship opportunities at the Center for the Teaching of History!
The John and Elizabeth Winthrop Endowed Fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Selected students will be referred to as “Winthrop Fellows”. Winthrop Fellows and their supervising teacher will each receive a $350 stipend. This fellowship gives students the chance to learn how to navigate an archive, work directly with primary sources, and experience what it is like to be a historian.
Although students are welcome to work at the MHS Reading Room in Boston, online access to hundreds of recently-digitized documents from our collections now makes it possible for students from across the country to identify, incorporate, investigate, and interpret these primary sources in their work. Together with their teacher advisor (a current or past History or English teacher, member of Library/Media staff, etc), students decide on a research project proposal that uses sources from the MHS collections. This can be a project already assigned in class. With the support of MHS library and education staff, students then perform research using MHS materials during the spring and must complete their research project to the teacher advisor’s satisfaction by 1 June, and finally write a blog post about their experience.
The John Winthrop Fellowship empowers students to explore a topic of their interest and helps them to access the often intimidating world of historical research. One of the most valuable aspects of this fellowship is the opportunity for students to directly interact with materials from the MHS archives. In reflecting on their experiences, many students were struck by the immediacy of the artifacts:
“I never expected to be staring at a three hundred year old letter in which Hugh Hall, one of Boston’s prominent slave traders, complains rather vehemently of seasickness. The letter was written in big, loopy handwriting, the polar opposite of Hugh’s brother Richard’s cramped impossibility, on yellowed old paper that felt somewhat slimy. For a moment, I was overcome by the idea that I was touching Hall’s DNA.” (2015 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
“It was incredible to see old newspapers that were transported along the Post Road to relay the world’s current events in the early 1700s, transformed into a computer document and displayed right in front of us. The only thing that could top it was being able to hold the physical letter that essentially started the Boston Post Road. Oh yeah, we did that too!” (2016 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
Many students appreciated the chance to draw their own impressions of history directly from primary sources rather than interpreted through a textbook:
“At points in the letters, Nora [Saltonstall]’s sense of humor and wittiness were evident which reminded me that she was indeed human and brought to life the events that transpired, in a way that textbooks are unable to.” (2013 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
“I suppose what I liked most was the ability to interpret the original documents on my own and draw my own conclusions around the actual evidence, rather than directly being told a conclusion by a third party.” (2013 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
Students also valued the opportunity to work with MHS staff and librarians, who welcomed them to the archive and made the work of historical research more accessible:
“The staff always took me seriously, and was always ready to help if I had a question. Until now I had never used microfiche, but within two minutes the reference librarian had me set up and I knew all I needed to know to use it. I could even take pictures of the old documents and email them to myself so I could do work at home.” (2014 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
“Although we were entirely new to the MHS, the staff treated us as if we were any other historians. Along with finding great sources, the respect we received from the staff boosted our confidence in our historical research skills.” (2016 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
Most importantly, students walked away from their fellowship opportunity empowered by their experience at the MHS:
“I have always wanted to be a historian. My time at the Massachusetts Historical Society obliterated any lingering doubts in that ambition. Words cannot describe the joy of these encounters with the past, an opportunity I will never forget.” (2015 John Winthrop Student Fellow)
Applications for 2019 John Winthrop Fellowships should be mailed no later 18 February 2019. Check out our website for more information on the Swensrud Fellowship and how to apply!