Reflections from Our Interns: William Keeler

This post was written by William (Bill) Keeler, history undergrad and SCRC research services intern since May 2017.

I am a history undergrad here at Mason with a focus in American History. I worked for many years in customer service before going to college and hope to be able to obtain my degree and work with the public in an instructional capacity. I reached out to Special Collections after my second visit here inquiring as to whether or not they had any internship opportunities. After meeting with Rebecca Bramlett, the Research Services Coordinator and Liz Beckman, the Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, and learning what SCRC had to offer, I was excited at the prospect of interning this summer semester after hearing the vast scope of projects that would be available to me.

Interning at Special Collections Research Center has been incredibly rewarding. My projects ranged from surveying parts of the collections for an upcoming exhibit to identifying compelling source materials for workshops that will be held this fall semester, calling it work is difficult. I was approached by Dr. George Oberle about working with him on the primary workshop aspect of his Hist-300 course and learned more about emerging pedagogical methods in the realm of teaching with primary sources. Being able to collaborate from an undergraduate point-of-view was definitely helpful in adding to his coursework. Understanding the work that goes into designing and conducting a workshop geared towards helping undergraduates not only think about primary sources from a multitude of angles but also effectively incorporating said sources into their projects and essays was definitely an eye-opening experience.

A class instruction using Artists’ Books.

One surprising facet that I was not privy to beforehand was the sheer amount of work one has to put into designing workshops and whether or not said work will come to fruition. From surveying holdings in SCRC to studying exactly what instructors want their students to take away from their time here, proved to be difficult but extremely enjoyable. Constantly working with Rebecca on how best to organize the information we would be presenting, helped me gain a better understanding of the instructional aspect of primary source workshops. While at first I assumed that it would be possible to make one outline for all topics, I quickly learned that each topic and source required a specific approach in order to properly understand each source in the period in which they were published. Furthermore, being able to switch gears between the mindset of educator and student proved difficult at times throughout the process, but being able to peer through both lenses when looking at workshop outlines proved invaluable as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts. To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Reflections from Our Interns: Zachary Greenfield

This post was written by Zachary Greenfield, undergrad in history at George Mason University. He has been a summer processing intern at our Special Collections Research Center since May 2017.

My internship with Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) has been incredibly enjoyable! I have gotten to handle a broad range of materials and collections. I mostly worked on processing various collections. While I only finished three complete collections, I was able to see the various states that they arrive in (for better or worse) and see just how much work goes into each collection. Everything from sorting to labelling and creating inventories as well as creating the finding aid I handled. Of course not every part of processing is enjoyable, newspaper clippings are not fun to work with as I learned and everyone agreed. The first collection I worked on was the Vincent F. Callahan collection, who I learned was a local politician. This was a collection of newspaper clippings about Callahan and his work that came to SCRC mostly unsorted. I spent much of my time organizing the collection into groups based on the publications before foldering them by date and newspaper. This took a surprising amount of time given the apparent size of the collection. After I finished the Callahan collection I also worked on the Hugh Sockett Institution for Educational Transformation (IET) Records. This was primarily composed of the papers and records for IET during Sockett’s tenure at the Institution. This was considerably better organized than the Callahan collection and was able to be completed much faster. My final collection during my internship was the Paul Ceruzzi Papers, which was primarily research for his book, “Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005” and is full of interesting research into the history of the local Fairfax area and the development of technology and the Internet in the Cold War period and beyond.  Previously, I did not distinguish much between archives and museums, but after doing this internship I can better appreciate both the similarities and the differences between the two institutions. In addition to my processing duties I also helped with rewriting the finding aids for previously processed collections. Overall I enjoyed my time at the George Mason University SCRC, and if given the opportunity I would continue working here more regularly.

Documents arranged into acid-free folders.

This internship complements my academic interests because I have always been interested in the writings and documents of people in our past. Both the everyday commoners and the people who are talked about in major history books. Seeing these collections is both like getting to see the creation of history and getting to see the process behind how history is researched and talked about. My academic interests are mostly historical but also range into the sciences, particularly space, biology, and early technology. As a side effect of my internship, particularly when working with the collection donated by Ceruzzi, I have been able to learn more about the Space Race and the feats associated with that. My historical interests are centered around the Viking Age and pre-Columbian Native Americans and Mesoamericans, but I am interested in all things history related. I have always loved visiting museums and recently become interested in working in either a museum or an archive. While I do not yet have a solid goal in mind, my next step after George Mason will be a Master’s degree and a journey into either the world of archives or the world of museums. Prior to doing this internship, I had some exposure to the SCRC from some of my classes that have held workshops there and through my own visits as a researcher. Of course, the convenient location at my university made SCRC seem like an excellent place to intern and I was interested in pursuing the internship because of the experience and guidance it could provide for my future.

Researcher Profile: Suzanne Walker

Suzanne Walker has been in our reading room diligently working with the Federal Theatre Project collections for the last three weeks. Suzanne was kind enough to allow me to interview her about her project. This is the first in what will become a frequent series of profiles with some of our researchers.

Please tell us a little about yourself:

I am twenty-one years old and go to school at Barnard College. I am majoring
in American Studies, concentrating in media and popular culture 1900-1945.

Can you describe your research project?

My research project centers on the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), which operated from 1935-1939 under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration, and remains the only instance in the United States’ history of a federally funded andoperated theatre. This project will culminate in the writing of my senior thesis for the American Studies major at Barnard. Ever since I learned of the Federal Theatre Project’s existence, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities and contradictions inherent in the creation of a national theatre. As I learned more about the history of the FTP, I became particularly interested in the relationship between director Hallie Flanagan’s artistic goals and the day-to-day operations of the small regional theatres. As national director of the Federal Theatre Project, Flanagan harbored ambitious goals both to provide relief to unemployed actors and to create a uniquely “American” theatre relevant to its audience. Flanagan’s definition of an “American” theatre relied on the development of homegrown, local theatres with distinctly regional characters, and my thesis explores to what extent her vision was actually carried out. By focusing on the relationship among
Flanagan, her administration, and the numerous regional directors scattered across the country, I hope to demonstrate that Flanagan’s vision of what constituted American theatre could not always be universally applied, and that artistic minds across the country were forced to modify her vision for political, artistic, and economic purposes.

How did you find the collections here at George Mason University’s archives?

Nearly all the bibliographies in books about the Federal Theatre Project reference the playscript and Oral History collections at SC&A, so it seemed like a good place to come to!

How did you learn about primary source research?

My first real experience conducting primary source research was when I worked as a research assistant last summer. One of the archivists showed me how to search for particular sources with the online catalogue, and very patiently showed me how to use the microfilm machine. From there it was a lot of diving in and learning through my own trial and error.

Do you have any advice on primary source research for other undergraduate students or first-time researchers?

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find what you’re looking for right away—sometimes you’ll find something you were looking for days ago in a place where you least expected it. Also, don’t necessarily start off with a specific idea or thesis. The deeper you get into research the more you will realize that your preconceived notions are never quite in line with how things actually played out. Start out with a very broad idea of what you’re looking for—the documents will speak for themselves.

What are your impressions of George Mason University? The archives? The DC area?

All three seem absolutely lovely! I’ve been quite impressed with the GMU campus/facilities, and everyone at the archives has been incredibly friendly and helpful. I still haven’t done much in the DC area other than touristy history stuff, but I’m excited to keep exploring!

Archival Instruction

Over the past few years we have hosted an increasing number of classes each semester in our reading room, much to our delight. One of our goals as a department is to reach more undergraduate students and introduce them to the joys of archival research. This past week we had over 20 undergraduate students here to learn about primary sources and how to begin including primary sources into their research. The class was HIST 389: The Civil Rights Movement and in the instruction session we gave them hand-on experience with some of the materials in our collections that relate to the Civil Rights Movement. These collections include C. Harrison Mann papers, Ollie Atkins Photograph collection, and the Philp Levy Civil Rights collection.

The students had a great time and several are ready to get into the reading room to begin working on their next assignment.

Here is the presentation that we included: