The last time I wrote a blog post, I had finished my first semester of college and finally narrowed down a research topic for my fellowship (dress reform!). Now, not only have I finished freshman year, I’ve also finished my time as a Freshman Fellow. And it was all so wonderful that I want to talk about it.
So, let’s start at the beginning: I first heard about the fellowship at the Special Collections Open House during orientation week. I was brand new to college, and everything felt different and exciting—but Special Collections, as different and exciting as it was, also felt familiar. I was attached to the place before I had any reason to be, but I couldn’t help it. Surrounded by all those amazing books, by the history contained in their boundless, beautiful pages, I knew immediately that I would apply for the fellowship. A short time later, I was notified of my acceptance, and the journey began.
Every Tuesday, I would meet with Heidi to discuss my findings, and somewhere along the process, what I was doing became about so much more than a research project: I was at Special Collections, bringing down the patriarchy! I was thinking about fashion and clothing in ways that I hadn’t before, and feeling empowered by the strength and bravery of the women whose works I was reading—women who, hundreds of years ago, were saying things that society, to this day, still isn’t comfortable with hearing. And the coolest part of it all was that I got to tell people about. Over the course of the spring semester, I spoke about my research at three major events—the last and most special of which was FlowerMart, one of the most popular festivals in the city. On a beautiful Saturday in the beginning of May, I had the privilege and pleasure of standing behind a podium in the George Peabody Library and discussing the work that I had done, sharing my perspective. I gave my presentation – “The Gender Politics of Fashion: The Dress Reform Movement and First Wave Feminism” – in one of the most beautiful libraries in probably the entire world, and it was all thanks to my fellowship, to Heidi, and to everyone else at Special Collections who helped me along the way.
In fact, I had such a great time, that I’m back at Special Collections for the summer! This past semester, while I was completing my fellowship, I applied for and was awarded the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award (DURA) to continue my research in fashion. This new project is focused on the twentieth century, and it’s even more anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal than the last one. I’d tell you more about it, but where’s the excitement in that?
I will say this, though: if you’re thinking of applying to the Freshman Fellowship or doing research in Special Collections, do it. Besides the obvious reasons (growing intellectually, developing better research skills, and more), it also allows you the opportunity to make a difference. To take what you have learned, what you want to learn and do something with it, something larger than yourself. And, yes, I know: This all sounds trite, grandiose, vague. But it’s true, and I’m testament to it. A lot of the research done in Special Collections tends to be about the same things: European history, old white men doing what old white men did in those days, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that (by all means, do the research that calls out to you!), but it’s also not all there is. I wanted to do research on fashion and dress reform and feminism; and, with the help of Heidi, Special Collections is now home to an abundance of new, fabulously feminist materials that weren’t there before. Materials that we’ve acquired because of my research. What’s cooler than that?
As my time in Special Collections continues, I can’t wait to see where my DURA research will take me. But, thanks to a pretty phenomenal year, I’ve got high expectations.