When I embarked on this internship, my main emotion was doubtful. Was I good enough for the program? Was my idea scholarly or simply “cool” enough? Did I love my topic enough? What even was my topic? I knew that I would have many opportunities to narrow down my project, but the anxiety that came with my family and friends asking me “so what exactly are you doing this summer” and not quite having an answer still accompanied me going into the summer.
Once we got started, the value of throwing myself deeply into meaningful work assuaged my fears and doubts significantly. Here I was, finding roots and a context for my topic. I was enjoying delving into research, collecting data from the newspapers, and thinking about ways to visualize my data. The low point came midway, like most of my peers, when I was basically told that I had no true argument or scholarly basis behind my project. However the harsh critiques compelled me to create much better research that gave me more time to spend on my project as a whole. I’m finishing confidently, proud of myself, and defying all the doubts I had along the way by completing my project, ready to talk about it and present and write about it to whoever will listen.
In class we talked about what we had learned from this project. The intangible aspects are hard for me to put into words, but I will attempt my best to describe and connect them to some of the guiding questions. Perhaps the largest takeaway from this project was how much I simply learned, despite that seeming like a cop–out answer. I think back to last summer, where I worked three days as an intern and four days as a waitress. I certainly was busy, and enjoyed the work I was doing–but I remember missing the intellectual engagement of Lafayette and the classes. This program allowed me to immerse myself in the act of learning, in learning for the sake of creating something exciting and new that I would not have anticipated myself being able to create even a few months ago. I grew as a student and scholar, giving me a new perspective on what it means to research. No longer do I define it by the typical classroom definition of research. Instead, I see research as an act of creation–particularly digital humanities research. Perhaps that is how I would define digital humanities–research where you create beyond the written word using digital tools. However, I do not see DH as its own field, but rather see us at a time in academia where the direction research is headed is toward digital, and DH is an intermediate movement to help scholars get there.
Continuing on the thread of intangible learning, the other main takeaway I want to discuss is the collaborative nature of this program. There was something comforting about having seven other people to look to who were going through the same ups and downs as I was. It was also really helpful to be able to see how other people’s projects were coming along and transforming. This is not a program one can go at alone. However, I do wish we did more feedback earlier on, especially related to the project. I have some other thoughts on how to improve the program as a whole. Initially, I thought that more time was definitely needed for the program, but since it’s the last week and everything is basically finished, I’m not so sure anymore. I definitely think redistributing when things happen would make the six weeks still sufficient. Most importantly, I believe that shifting the librarian critiques and solidifying a research question and thesis as soon as possible is crucial to making the process less stressful. It would also allow for everyone to have a more cohesive concept as to what their project would look like earlier on. Another suggestion I have is to meet more often. I found that the independence to work on my project was nice, but it did make me feel a little lost with so many hours to myself. I think an additional lab hour would be helpful, since times to do focused work were really helpful.
To shift to my project itself, the question of how my love for the topic has changed is a very interesting one. Certainly my love for The Lafayette has taken a different shape. There is certainly something about learning the history of something that makes you love it even more. Going through the archives of The Lafayette made me feel both connected and disconnected to those on the paper who came before me. I felt connected because I saw the struggles and joys we go through currently reiterated in past decades, and disconnected because the student body at Lafayette is so different now–there is no universe in which I would be in charge of design for The Lafayette in the 60s and 70s. But overall, it was fascinating to me to see how the newspaper has changed, in ways I mentioned in my conclusion and in simpler ways that are cool to me from simply being on the paper. Despite not being involved with the writing/content aspect of the newspaper, it still makes me want to take the best parts about previous incarnations of the paper and put it in our current one.
My project has also made me think more critically about the nature of political engagement I looked at in my research. Certainly academic engagement with politics is not bad, but is it really activism? As in–is it going to make wide changes to systemic issues like protests did? I really do not have answers to this whatsoever, but it’s certainly interesting to think about. But going back to the idea of love–I know for certain that I love the questions my project leaves me with. Perhaps they will sustain my desire to learn into the rest of the summer.