Theses: To Share or Not Share?

Over the past few years, I’ve thought several times about making my undergraduate and master’s theses available online – both papers are available for in-library use at the respective institutions I completed my degrees at, but were initially deposited in years when the standard format was paper (or paper and a CD-ROM).

In 2009, I finished a BA in History at Purchase College, State University of New York, where one of the graduation requirements is to complete a “senior project.” Like many students, my senior project took the form of a thesis – a personal research project aimed at synthesizing the knowledge I’d gathered throughout my undergraduate degree and contributing something new. Honestly, I loved the experience and I definitely think senior or capstone projects should be required for undergraduate students at more institutions – it was a great learning experience that meant that I had a decent writing sample to show others if needed, and it made the concept of writing a thesis for my master’s degree much, much easier, because I knew I could conceive my own project and complete it. Don’t get me wrong – it was stressful and I definitely pulled too many all-nighters, but when I finished I felt amazing. SUNY Purchase also has a wonderful tradition around submitting senior projects – back in my day1, all graduating seniors lined up in front of the academic building associated with their major, and the faculty and seniors walked over to the library together. Each student took their turn walking up the library stairs and plunking their large sheaf of paper (and occasionally a CD-ROM) in a box while everyone cheered.

And they released balloons!

Then we all went across campus to the annual Senior BeerBQ, one of the only events held by the college that was allowed to serve alcohol, and faculty members served up burgers and DJ’d from playlists on their iPods.2 I keep on telling institutional repository folks that the best way to get submission rates up is to have a big celebratory parade and party for people who submit, because this was SUCH a fun experience!

I’m literally talking on a BlackBerry in this picture, and YES, I did cinch my graduation robe with a belt from H&M. Photo by Sam Branman.

Student senior projects can be found through this LibGuide at the Purchase College Library – because mine was submitted in 2009, it falls into the “collection housed in Library (no electronic access)” category. My thesis, “The New Jersey Turnpike: A Road Trip Through the History and Culture of New Jersey,” explored the idea of the rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike serving as public educational spaces. I was curious how and why the rest stops got named after historical figures to begin with, and trying to find answers to that led to my first experiences doing archival research (and first experience being shut down by a PR rep when you’re asking too many questions!).

Local catalog description of my undergraduate thesis.

Four years later, in 2013, I finished up a dual master’s degree program at Simmons College (now Simmons University). For the MA in History half of the degree, we were required to complete a thesis. In practice, most people in the dual degree program tried to tie their history thesis into archival and/or library practice in some way. My thesis, “Going Down in History: The Collective Memory of the Titanic” was born out of a eureka moment while prepping for the World Civ II survey class I TA’d for – I was reading Edmund Burke’s 1790 “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” and I had just gotten to the section on whether all occupations were honorable.

Screenshot of page 49 of Burke’s pamphlet, from Google Books.

I made a note in the margin: “Like Cal from Titanic – some people are better than others to Burke; poor people and their lives are meaningless.” If you haven’t seen James Cameron’s Titanic, hie thee to a streaming platform post haste, but I’m referring to a scene where the main character, Rose, is telling her mother and fiancé (Cal) that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board:

Screenshot from Titanic by @allthetifanics.

Cal’s “Not the better half” is what came to mind when I read Burke’s words, and suddenly I had an epiphany: everything can be connected to the Titanic! That’s an exaggeration, but I was curious: how come the sinking of the Titanic has such a seemingly strong presence in collective memory, when plenty of other historical events that may have had bigger impacts aren’t so present in popular culture? That question led me down a path that included research trips to London, Southampton, Belfast, Cork, Cobh, and Halifax, viewing dozens of movies, and reading widely on the presence of the Titanic in pop culture, the formation of social, collective memories, and what remembering and forgetting means.

Have you ever wondered if there are murals about the Titanic in Belfast? Well, there are! This one is (or was, in 2013) off of Newtonards Road in Protestant East Belfast, in an area known for its sectarian wall murals.

I’m actually enormously proud of my master’s thesis, and not just because I won a school award for it. I intended to study the intersection of history, collective memory, and pop culture by using the sinking of the Titanic as a case study, and to examine how collective memory of the sinking of the Titanic has moved away from the event itself to remembrance of an increasingly totemized symbol, and I feel like I accomplished that – it’s the deepest I’ve delved into any topic still. Like my undergraduate thesis, my master’s thesis is available in the school library – this case, Simmons University’s, as you can see in the screenshot from their catalog below.

Catalog record for my master’s thesis.

All of this nostalgia for my academic journey is to say: neither my master’s or bachelor’s thesis is available digitally, and both are in-library use only at my respective alma mater’s. I did a search in WorldCat, and only my master’s thesis shows up out of the two. Neither thesis is particularly easy to find information about, never mind actually read.

So, maybe it’s time I MADE them available online? And really, why haven’t I already done that?

When I was finishing up my master’s program and beginning to seriously look at the job market, there was also a lot of internet discussion surrounding whether history PhD’s should make their dissertations available online. I had completed a master’s thesis for a MA in History, which isn’t the same as a dissertation, but the conversations gave me pause – what if my thesis wasn’t good enough? What if future jobs spurned me because I had made some error in research or analysis? What if (GASP) someone scooped my ideas and then published them in a journal or book faster than I could? I was just beginning my career, and I was definitely impressionable.3

Sitting in a replica Titanic deck chair, during a 2013 research trip to Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Photo by my mom, Catherine Christian.

Six years later, it feels overdue – in effect I did embargo my undergraduate and master’s thesis, because they are very hard to gain access to in person and impossible to access digitally. And my mindset has changed quite a bit too – I’m less scared of being judged solely on my earlier work, and more comfortable with publicly sharing things that might be kind of, sort of still works-in-progress. I do still hope to publish something based on my master’s thesis research – particularly around the concepts of regional collective memory vs. transnational memory (chapter 4!).

When I look at my undergraduate thesis, I mainly see the errors – thoughtless typos, how the argument was a bit shallow, how I would do it differently now. That undergraduate thesis was a gigantic accomplishment when I finished it, not because it’s particularly amazing, but because it’s what led to my getting a Bachelor’s degree – something I wasn’t really sure I was going to accomplish, something that no one else in my nuclear family had. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it readily available digitally because I know I can do better than that.

My master’s thesis is a bit of a different story – there are undoubtedly errors and inelegant turns of phrase in there too, but I was more concerned about widely sharing the content of that thesis for the reasons that the AHA and some historians cited in 2013: if I wanted to return to these ideas, shouldn’t I sit on the early version of them until I can publish, so I can get proper (read: tenure portfolio) credit for it, and so that another researcher doesn’t build off of my ideas before I can even get them really out there?

Both sets of concerns are real ones, and I don’t mean to minimize them when others have them about their own work. But, for me… I think it’s more important to share the research process and products as freely as I can. It’s more in line with the type of scholar I want to be. If people (read: future employers) think that my senior year undergraduate writing is as good as I can do, I invite them to read other, more recent pieces I’ve written.4 If others want to build on the ideas I brought up in my master’s thesis before I get a chance to expand on them myself, please go ahead! Our ways of thinking won’t be same, because we will be approaching those ideas and topics as different individuals. I’m not going to be scared that sharing my work will hurt me or my career prospects, because frankly… I don’t believe it will.

So, without further ado:

Christian-Lamb, Caitlin. “The New Jersey Turnpike: A Road Trip Through the History and Culture of New Jersey.” BA thesis, Purchase College, State University of New York, 2009.

Christian-Lamb, Caitlin. “Going Down in History: The Collective Memory of the Titanic.” Master’s thesis, Simmons College (now Simmons University), 2013.

Eating & Drinking in Woodley Park (and Beyond) during SAA 2018!

The annual meeting for SAA is hosted in my neck of the woods this year – I’m a recent Marylander but lived in Adams Morgan years ago – so I thought I’d share some suggestions of places nearby the conference site, the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. The conference’s host committee has also published recommendations on their blog, including some tips on dealing with the metro’s red line single tracking.

A few blocks from the conference hotel in Woodley Park is this mysterious mural – I visited it with my friend Kara this past winter.

Quick Food

Nando’s Peri-Peri (2631 Connecticut Ave NW): Across the street from the conference hotel, this chain of Afro-Portuguese chicken is super delicious.

Hot N Juicy Crawfish (2651 Connecticut Ave NW): A Cajun crawfish chain that’s a favorite of my partner’s family, so I’ve been here a few times. It’s messy and your clothes will smell like garlic afterwards, but a great spot for spicy seafood and surprisingly good cocktails. Also across the street from the conference venue.

McDonald’s (2616 Connecticut Ave NW): Next to the metro station, same side of the street as the conference hotel. McD has my favorite quick coffee in this area because I’m not a fan of Dunkin or Starbucks (there are Starbucks and Dunkin locations across the street from this McDonald’s though, if those catch your fancy).

Macintyre’s (2621 Connecticut Ave NW): A sports bar with good food and craft beers, across the street from the Woodley Park metro station and the conference hotel.

Amsterdam Falafelshop (2425 18th St NW): About a 15-20 minute walk from the conference hotel, on the famed 18th street drag in Adams Morgan. One of my favorite places back when I lived in this neighborhood 8 years ago – it’s delicious, affordable, and fast, and you add your own toppings to your falafel. It can be hard to grab seating though, especially at night.

&pizza (2465 18th St NW): A new-ish DC chain with delicious pizzas (and gluten-free options). My absolute favorite is the avocado toast pizza, but they only serve the breakfast pizzas at the Georgetown and airport locations, so if you’re flying in/out of Dulles or National in the mornings, grab breakfast pizza! On the regular menu, I’m fond of the Moonstruck pizza. This place is also on the main drag in Adams Morgan, about 15-20 minutes of walking from the conference hotel.

The interior of Jumbo Slice, taken this past winter during a daytime visit.

Jumbo Slice: Listen, Jumbo Slice gets a bad rap, but you owe it to yourself to try to the signature DC style of pizza. The commonly held belief is that this is always best to eat at the end of a long night of drinking, but in my opinion it’s perfectly good sober as well. These are big slices, kind of similar to New York style pizza but much larger and not as… well, delicious (I’m a native New Yorker so I’m biased here). It’s still tasty though! There are many places that serve Jumbo Slice along the Adams Morgan 18th street corridor, but my favorite is simply named Jumbo Slice (2341 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009). However, Pizza Mart (2445 18th St NW) is often cited as the originator of the DC jumbo slice. The downside is that like Amsterdam Falafel and &pizza, these places is about a 20 minute walk away from the conference hotel.

Slower Food

Tono Sushi (2605 Connecticut Ave NW): I actually haven’t been to this place, but it has good reviews online and it’s across the street from the conference hotel. Sushi, plus Japanese and Thai dishes.

Open City (2331 Calvert St NW): Close to the conference hotel, Open City is operated by the same group that runs Tryst and The Diner on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. I prefer Tryst, but Open City has all day breakfast and a fairly delicious menu with a bunch of vegetarian and gluten-free options. The real downside is that every time I’ve eaten there, the service has been pretty slow, so you’ll want to leave extra time.

District Kitchen (2606 Connecticut Ave NW): Fancy New American place across the street from the conference hotel. Pricey, but pretty tasty food and good cocktail and beer menus.

Lebanese Taverna (2641 Connecticut Ave NW): Another spot I haven’t tried yet, but it’s a popular local chain, and this location is across the street from the conference hotel. I’m told it has good gluten-free options.

Mama Ayesha’s (1967 Calvert St NW): About halfway between Woodley Park and Adams Morgan, this Middle Eastern restaurant is famous for it’s wall mural of US presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, pictured with the founder, Mama Ayesha herself.

Duke’s Counter (3000 Connecticut Ave NW): Close to the National Zoo, about a 10 minute walk from the conference hotel. This spot serves British pub-y food, and their Proper Burger has gotten a lot of buzz as one of the best burgers in DC.

Vace Italian Deli (3315 Connecticut Ave NW): Like Duke’s, this spot is close to the zoo. It’s got a reputation for excellent pizza but also has a lot of delicious Italian deli and market staples. Roughly a 15-20 minute walk away from the conference hotel.

Tryst (2459 18th St NW): Coffeeshop with big lattes and all day brunch, on the 18th Street corridor. Seating can be limited here, but it’s a fun location and the food and coffee are good. Back in 2009/2010, I lived around the corner from this place and didn’t have wifi at home, so I would camp out on the couches at Tryst pretty often.


The Line Hotel (1770 Euclid St NW): DC is going wild for this new ~cool hotel in Adams Morgan. It has several bars, restaurants, and a coffee shop (and a radio station?), and the interiors are very hip. The wait for a table at the restaurants tends to be long, which is why I put this in the drinks section – you’ll likely wait less if you’re just drinking, and the cocktail menu is v. v. good. About a 20 minute walk from the conference hotel.

Jack Rose Dining Saloon (2007 18th St NW): Fancy whiskey bar with good food and themed rooms (a tiki bar, a rooftop terrace, dining saloon etc.). About a 20 minute walk from the hotel, in Adams Morgan.

Roofers Union (2446 18th St NW): Craft cocktail bar with a rooftop patio, about 15-20 minutes walking from the conference hotel.

Dan’s Cafe (2315 18th St NW): The Google Maps description is “No frills, pour-your-own dive bar,” which I think just about covers it. Cash only, roughly 20 minutes walk from the conference hotel.

Jug & Table (2446 18th St NW): Same building as Roofers Union (next door to Tattoo Paradise, where I got my first tattoo ever and also where a few Capitals players got celebratory Stanley Cup tats). Great wine menu and good prices.

Bourbon (2321 18th St NW): Are you getting the sense that DC is a whiskey drinker’s town? Apparently it is, and since bourbon is my favorite liquor, I’m into it. This place has a large selection of whiskeys, has a small-but-good food menu (including Old Bay tater tots), and is about a 15 minute walk from the conference hotel.

Hotel bars: The Marriott has a few bars and restaurants inside of it. The only one I’ve been to is Stone’s Throw, which had pretty good fish and chips.


National Zoo: Free, walking distance from the conference hotel, and has misting stations for hot days – the zoo is always worth a visit when in Woodley Park.

Rock Creek Park: The park is right next to the conference hotel, and has several hiking trails, as well as a stable that offers riding to the public. I’ve only admired this park from above (while walking across Duke Ellington Bridge) and from a car, partially because my little cousin once got bit by a brown recluse spider there and had to be hospitalized for months. A friend of mine has a theory that women familiar with DC automatically think of Chandra Levy’s body being found there.

Further Afield

Places that you will have to take the metro and/or a rideshare to, but are some of my favorite DC places:

The fried chicken honey biscuit sandwich at Astro.

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken: No real seating (a handful of tables out front) and it closes pretty early, but this is my favorite fried-chicken-on-a-biscuit in the area. It’s very good! Metro Center metro.

Izakaya Seki: Very delicious Japanese bar food, although it’s a bit pricey and seating can be rough since it’s a small place. Still, it’s one of my favorite places that I’ve eaten in DC. Shaw/Howard University metro.

NuVegan: Vegan soul food! There’s a location in College Park (right next to University of Maryland campus) that I hit up all the time, but also one in Columbia Heights. This place is delicious and affordable, and their vegan ricotta will blow your mind. College Park or Columbia Heights metro.

Wok N Roll: Karaoke! Drinks, pretty decent appetizers, and private karaoke rooms in Chinatown. The building also has an interesting history. Gallery Place/Chinatown metro.

Union Market: Indoor food hall with lots of options, plus a pop-up movie theater, occasional art exhibitions, sit-down restaurants, a Yoko Ono mural, and outdoor table tennis etc. NoMa/Gallaudet University/New York Ave metro.

Exterior of NMAAHC and the Washington Monument, taken during my second visit last winter.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: On the National Mall, one of the newest DC museums. 1000% worth a visit, although getting in can be a bit complicated, especially during the summer. I’ve had luck with waking up at 6 AM to reserve same-day passes online – every time I’ve tried I’ve been able to get timed passes. This museum is pretty sizable and has a TON of content, so even though I’ve been three times I still don’t think I’ve seen everything, so if you can, get an early-in-the-day timed pass so you have several hours for your visit. The in-museum cafe, Sweet Home Cafe, is also an above-average museum eatery and worth stopping at. Like all of the Smithsonians, entry is free.

Renwick Gallery: This museum always has really interesting exhibitions – right now it’s an exhibition on the art of Burning Man. Farragut West metro.

My favorite piece of art in DC, “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” by Nam June Paik, is on permanent display at SAAM in the National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM): A longtime fave! These two museums share a building, so you can hit two-in-one – it’s actually the Old Patent Office Building, and you can see remnants of that, particularly on the upper floor where SAAM is. SAAM has a small but great modern art collection. NPG has excellent temporary exhibitions as well as a lot to offer in the permanent collections – this is where the Obamas official portraits are, as well as the portrait of the four women Supreme Court Justices. Both are free and open until 7 PM, which means you can pop in after other museums have closed. Gallery Place/Chinatown metro.

Black Cat, 9:30 Club, the Anthem: If you want to see live music while in DC, these three are my go-to’s. AV Archives Night will be at Black Cat on the 15th. 9:30 Club is next door to Satellite Room, which has great drinks. The Anthem is a new, gigantic venue at the Wharf, which is a new development in DC.

AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center: I might be biased because I used to live walking distance from AFI, but it’s a really excellent indie movie theater that frequently runs hard-to-see-elsewhere content, film series, and local festivals (CatVideoFest is a joy). It’s a bit of a trek from the conference hotel, but worth checking the calendar to see if there’s something that catches your interest. Silver Spring metro.

Eat a half smoke: Another iconic DC food! Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U Street NW; U Street metro [if you’re on U Street, also try Dukem and/or Oohh’s & Aahh’s]) is the signature place to try this, and I like HalfSmoke (651 Florida Ave NW; Shaw-Howard University metro) because they also have fancy cocktails and fried mac and cheese. Slim’s Diner (4200 9th St NW; Georgia Ave-Petworth metro) is my on to-try list (and is located in another DC neighborhood I lived in years ago).

This is What You’re Leaving, or Year 3.10

Almost four years ago I wrote a blog post about all of my feelings on leaving Boston to come to North Carolina, on the pre-nostalgia that comes with knowing you’re exiting one phase of your life for another:

“I began taking long walks around Cambridge, trekking from Harvard Square to Central nearly every day, hoarding Mike’s Donuts from Roxbury in my bag while I hunted down the best lattes within a two mile radius of Widener Library (FYI, I’m pretty sure Simon’s Too is God’s Gift to Central). I wandered through the North End for no reason other than that I could. I stayed late at my office every night, met new people, read YA novels on the train, and had more fun than I’d had in months, maybe years. I was finished with graduate school, but occupying that post-grad liminal space where you’re not entirely sure what your future is going to be.”

Posing with my office directional sign back in 2014.
Posing with my office directional sign back in 2014 (and wearing an ear warmer from my undergrad alma mater, SUNY Purchase College.

I left small-town NC a few weeks ago to start a PhD program at the University of Maryland, and I spent the last few months having similar feelings all over again. I took similar long walks to soak in my environs, planned weekend trips to the mountains and the beach so I could experience as much of the southeast as possible before leaving. I won’t be that far away – metro DC is about a six or seven hour drive from Davidson – but I still found myself reveling in that kind of ache that appreciating a place right before you leave it brings.

Davidson's Chambers Building, taken a few days before I packed my bags and left town.
Davidson’s Chambers Building, taken a few days before I packed my bags and left town.

I’m reminded a lot of Erin White’s blog on going deep instead of high, “What it means to stay” – what does it mean to leave, when you have poured your heart and soul into a job and still have a lot of love for it? When I first moved to NC, I thought: “if this doesn’t work out, just stay a year and then look for other jobs.” I’d never lived in a small town before, and I was really concerned that I would never fit in, never be totally right for this role. I still don’t think I’m really a small town person, but I am a Davidson person, more than I could have imagined back in fall 2013. And while I’m leaving, I don’t see it as choosing to go high (although to be honest I’d rather not be an entry-level employee my entire career), but choosing to go deep into a field rather than a single institution.

Jarrett Drake’s recent essay, “I’m Leaving the Archival Profession: It’s Better This Way,” is also on my mind – I’ve shared this piece with so many archivists and non-archivists of my acquaintance, because it’s one of the best, clearest write-ups of some of the biggest issues in the archival profession (and all professions) today. Like Jarrett, I have a passion for the archival field, but I may not have “archivist” in my job title in my next go-round. I ran into a colleague from UNC Charlotte at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting at the end of July, and she mentioned Jarrett’s piece and how she thinks archivists need to discuss how the field is losing people to PhDs and other professions, and while I agree that it’s a worthy topic that needs delving into, I protested that I wasn’t leaving the field, not really. Like so many archival folks, I’m layering and intermingling another professional identity along with that of “archivist.”

I will miss so much about Davidson and North Carolina – chief amongst the things I am feeling sad about is leaving our students. I always think it’s cheesy when folks say that the students are the best part about working in education, but they really are, in my experience. This small college and small-town atmosphere promotes a joiner culture, a place where bonding over academics and being a workaholic nerd type is idealized. There are issues that come with that, of course – stress, a culture of overwork, latent classism, overt racism. Being an outsider at Davidson (or at any academic institution, for that matter) is a hard road to tread. I hope that I connected with students, particularly those that don’t come from a “traditional” background for an elite small liberal arts college that was founded to educate wealthy white southern boys. All of the students certainly had an impact on me. I’ve left, but I still care a lot – about the institution, the people, and how archives can better serve and interact with both of those facets.

Posing with a pennant from that one time Davidson beat UNC in 1926.
Posing with a pennant from that one time Davidson beat UNC in 1926.

To be completely honest, in some ways it’s hard for me to believe that I’m about to begin a PhD program. I wasn’t very interested in higher ed when I was younger – I’m the only person in my immediate family to have completed a BA, and that certainly wasn’t a given (insert long story here about taking courses at community college, transferring to a private university and hating it, dropping out, working full-time in a bookstore for a few years, and then deciding that it was time to give school a fair shake and transferring to a small state school in my home county). There are many places along the way that I could have taken a different path than this one, and it seems somewhat surreal to have ended up where I am now. I am so, so thankful to folks who guided me along the way: there’s way too long of a list to name them all, but Jeannette Bastian, Geoffrey Field, Sara Sikes, Hilton Kelly, Mark Sample, Anelise Shrout, and Scott Denham deserve so many coffees at my expense.

My former co-worker Jan Blodgett deserves a special shout-out – Jan retired from her post as Davidson’s College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator this May. Jan was a really amazing co-worker – not only is she an excellent archivist with years of experience (and also a bellydance instructor, local historian, badass Quaker who is super into social justice, and a community activist), she is also extremely open to new ideas and loves encouraging new professionals. She was really more of a friend and mentor than a senior colleague, and I can’t stress enough the importance of having such a supportive, open co-worker when you’re just starting out in the field. Jan always made it clear that she valued my opinion, and went out of her way to find ways for me to develop in my role at Davidson and in the archival profession as a whole. I feel like if I do anything of value in archives, it’s down to Jan having been in my corner all of these years (I mean, check out this sign she made for me on my first work anniversary). Get you a Jan Blodgett, is what I’m saying.

Me and Jan in the stacks of Davidson College's library in 2016.
Me and Jan in the stacks of Davidson College’s library in 2016.

I’m looking back a lot these days, worrying about the future of the many projects I’ve begun at Davidson and suddenly feeling very North Carolinian, but I’m also looking forward – in the past nearly four years I’ve gained a lot of confidence, experience, friends, and one small-ish cat. This sounds very saccharine, I love both where I’ve been for the last few years, and also where I’m headed – I have a brand new opportunity to learn and hopefully shape my field, and I intend to make the most of it.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Pain, or an Extremely Personal Post about Disability

The thing about disability is that it affects everything in your life. I spent years trying to pretend I didn’t have a physical disability, that it didn’t affect me or the things that I do in any way, fighting against the idea that my body would not be able to carry out the things that I wanted to do.

I first realized that this would be a problem in February 2016. I was on a course trip to Berlin with a fantastic group of professors and students, studying Holocaust memory by encountering sites first-hand. When the week was nearly out, I pulled my Achilles tendon badly and had trouble walking. I was in a terrific amount of pain, but I tried to walk on it for about a day anyway. Because I was on this trip and had committed to attending meetings and discussions, because I wanted to be at those discussions, and because I had trouble understanding that being in pain might mean I had to limit myself in any way.

I’ve been in pain for so long that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t ache. I remember dosing myself on Children’s Motrin when I was in middle school, trying to numb the aches that I assumed were par for the course for a competitive figure skater. In that world something was always tweaked or sore; it was normal to have some pain. I never thought that what I was experiencing might be worse than it was for others, and frankly I still don’t know whether it was. I wouldn’t get a diagnosis for nearly another decade.

The pain began to get worse during my mid-teenage years, but I never let it stop me. I developed chronic tendonitis in both ankles the summer I was 15, and even though the rink trainer told me it was an overuse injury, it never occurred to me to stop practicing. Instead I wore gel sleeves around both ankles, designed to keep the tendons warm, and took more OTP pain relievers. I still have those gel sleeves – I used them for my Achilles when it was injured last year.1

I have more injuries from those years than I can count. I once broke my ankle at school while running down a flight of stairs to a class I was late for; I assumed it was twisted and walked and skated on it for a few days before my mother noticed my limping and insisted I get it checked out. I had to wear an aircast for over a month and would miss the biggest competition of my season; it turned out that it wouldn’t matter, because the competition was scheduled for September 16, 2001 in Manhattan. It was cancelled. I tried to conceal my injury as much as possible – I guess in order not to admit weakness or seem different in any way. I worked on walking as normally as possible, concealing my limp and refusing to use crutches or a cane. I had more broken foot bones, broken ribs, shin splints, toepicks-imbedded-in-knees during those years then I could tally. We all liberally applied Tiger Balm as a cure-all, all had permanent purple rings around our ankles where our boots ended.2

By my senior year in high school I was reconsidering the whole figure skating thing. In those days, if you weren’t on the senior competitive circuit by 16 you weren’t going to have a career in the sport. I had spent years pouring all of my energy into a chimera and didn’t know what I should do next. Quitting seemed natural, although it took me over a year for that to actually stick. A year after that I noticed a weakness in my left knee – it couldn’t always hold my weight, and there was a sort of burning pain under my kneecap that wouldn’t go away. I would hit my knee with a hardcover book until it became numb, so used to mitigating pain that I didn’t think of the consequences of ignoring it.

When I finally dealt with the fact that the pain was becoming permanent, I began seeing doctors. It took another two years, but they thought they knew what was wrong with me. Arthroscopic surgery ended up proving the doctors’ theory wrong, and we went back to the drawing board.

Of course, the other parts of my life didn’t stop during all of this. I began college. I dropped out. I traveled a little and worked a lot. I went back to school. I graduated. I hurt my back terribly that last semester and still don’t know how; I wrote my thesis propped up on pillows and dulled by Vicodin. I didn’t consider any of this abnormal – it was simply how my life has always worked.

Years went by, the pain came and went. I separated my physical body from my daily life as much as possible, as bizarre as that sounds. I went to graduate school, was fortunate enough to have a few years without intense pain spikes, as well as flexible work schedules that allowed me to work around any incidents. I took it for granted that others would be understanding about my disability,3 that they wouldn’t see my physical incapability as symptomatic of a lack of desire or inability to work, that others would see me the way I saw myself – a brain separated from a body.4

This fall a new chronic disability emerged, one both separate from and connected to my decades long struggle with osteoarthritis. The diagnosis is still being workshopped, but it looks as though I have degenerative disc disease, or some other serious disc problem. My neurospine specialist, one of a team of people who work on trying to mitigate my symptoms, was surprised the first time he saw my MRI. “You’re awfully young for this,” he commented. You’re telling me, doc.5

Yesterday afternoon I received a second round of nerve blocks injected into my spine. Each time I do this I have to sign a release saying, among other things, that I won’t “make any major life decisions within 24 hours of the procedure,” which… seems odd to me, but OK. All of this seems self-pitying, whiny, beneath dignity somehow. I know I’m very lucky in many ways – lucky to have a body that appears to conform to norms, lucky to have health insurance that covers anything at all,6 lucky to be years away from back surgery, lucky that none of this is worse.

I feel this urge to get in my car and drive as far as I can, wake up in a new place, as a new person, with a new body. But that’s not how this works. Back in Berlin in February 2016, I sobbed for nearly an hour when I realized I couldn’t just tough through that Achilles injury – large, body-wracking sobs that I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to have this body that seems as fragile as glass, that kept me from things it seemed everyone else could do. I didn’t want to worry that taking long walks, or standing for too long, or sitting for too long, or crossing my legs, or sleeping without a pillow under my knees, or trying rock climbing that one time, or taking a demanding yoga class might mean I would not be able to walk the next day, that I would be limited in ways that seemed unfair, unjust. But it is what it is; this is the body I have.

I meant to write about what it is like to have permanent, incurable, degenerative disabilities, what it is like to live with chronic pain. Instead this feels more like a confessional of all the ways I’ve hid and denied my disability, all of the ways I’ve felt sorry for myself for even having to deal with it at all. Today my pain is distinctly uncomfortable, soreness from the injections running down my low back and legs adding to the constant knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, neck, and mid-back pain. It’s not excruciating, though – the last year or so has taught me a lot about what level of pain I can be in and still function normally, and what unbearable pain is.7 In a few days I’ll wake up and the nerve blockers will have kicked in and the soreness from the injections will have faded, and the pain will seem manageable again, at a level that lets me hide it from view. I’ll go back to pretending to be a person with a whole, undamaged body, hiding my limp as much as possible and always telling everyone I am “fine,”  in the way that only a stubborn jerk with decent healthcare and an invisible disability can. I’m trying to be better, to admit my weaknesses and be open about my pain, instead of wearing flowy tops so no one will see the icepacks tucked into my waistband, trying not to clutch my lower back and insisting that I am fine, perfectly OK in fact, instead of having difficult conversations. I’m trying, but it’s hard.


Berlin, Berlin

I began trying to write about my experience with HIS/GER 433: The Holocaust and Representation and our study trip in Berlin over spring break since… well, since we were in Berlin in late February and early March. But I’ve been stymied, partially because the Spring 2016 semester has been a test of endurance and limits in every way possible, and partially because I needed time to sort out my thoughts.

I worked with this class every week (sometimes every day) from January until May (with prep work beginning the semester before), serving as a sort of combination embedded archivist and co-instructor. As part of that work, I helped shape the syllabus, attended the seminar classes every week, participated in and led discussions, and helped plan and shape the final projects. I also was part of an intensive class study trip in Berlin over spring break.

HIS/GER 433 was experimental in nearly every way a class can be – the course comprised twelve students from a variety of majors (Caroline Bell ’17, Colin Bye ’17, Vita Dadoo Lomeli ’18, Kate Donahoo ’17, Rosi Goetz ’16, Hannah Grace Heartfield ’16, Matthew Schlerf ’16, Amanda Scott ’17, Bolton Smith ’16, Emily Taylor ’16, Nora Wartan ’16, and Ben Williams ’16) one lead faculty member (Scott Denham), two co-instructors (Roman Utkin and myself), and six faculty fellows from a variety of disciplines (Patricio Boyer, Caroline Fache, Kyra Kietrys, Kristi Multhaup, Alan Michael Parker, and Rizwan Zamir). Scott insisted on all participants being on a first-name basis with each other (no titles), and emphasized a democratic classroom model where students’ voices were allowed to drive both discussions and content. All 21 of us spent a week in Berlin together, visiting Holocaust sites and meeting with key figures in Germany to discuss remembrance and representation of genocide. No grades were given for individual assignments, and students and instructors dedicated many hours outside of the seminar meeting each week (particularly in Berlin and during the final project work, which I’ll describe more further on).

Course instructors get selfie-crazy in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery - posing with Brecht's and Hegel's graves.
Course instructors get selfie-crazy in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery – posing with Hegel’s and Brecht’s graves.

My role in the class was also pretty revolutionary – most of our archives & special collections classes are based around our existing collections, either teaching students how to use primary sources, helping them find and engage those sources for a project, or digitization and digital exhibit projects. But HIS/GER 433 utilized my base of knowledge (on the Holocaust, collective memory, and memorialization) and my “archival frame of mind” – I would often discuss archival theory in class and how it related to the historical research and readings students were conducting, and being an archivist helped ensure that the class final projects would end up in a repository (Davidson College’s archives, as a matter of fact). I was also pleased to see how interested in the students were in archivist/librarian careers – one student had already applied to library school (and was accepted during the semester!), and three others talked to me about career paths related to information work. Being able to “model” what an archivist is and does for undergraduate students in this way was really a privilege.

I feel like I’m still absorbing and processing everything that happened in Berlin and afterwards – I arrived in Berlin on February 24th, for two days of vacation before the students, other instructors, and faculty fellows joined me. Those first two days were incredibly relaxing – I made a point of not visiting any sites I knew the whole group would go to later in the week, so most of my free time was spent eating delicious food and wandering around Prenzlauerberg (with some jaunts to visit the Bauhaus Archiv, Currywurst Museum, and Templehof airport).

The interior of Templehof Airport - very cool!
The interior of Templehof Airport – very cool!

Once the students and fellow instructors arrived, the schedule was non-stop. The class experience in Berlin was so many things at once: exhausting (physically and emotionally), freezing, depressing, interesting, engaging, and incredibly educational. I feel like I know my students and my colleagues in a whole new way – I had so many fantastic group and one-on-one conversations about what we were seeing and feeling, and every person on the trip seemed to be genuinely moved and engaged in the subject and in our dissection of it. The people – students, faculty, staff, community – have always been the best part of working at Davidson College, and I already respected and admired the dedication and passion of our students and our employees, but that week together in Berlin awed me more than I would have thought possible. This community is special, and not just because of the academic rigor Davidson is known for. It’s a community that has allowed me to grow in a myriad of ways – as an archivist, as an instructor, and (as cheesy as it sounds) as a person.

All 21 of us, in the Bundestag after meeting with Ekin
All 21 of us, in the Bundestag after meeting with Ekin Deligöz.

The bonds we formed in Berlin carried over to the second half of the semester, particularly as we began discussing the final project outputs. We had several – an essay written for Gegen Vergessen – Für Demokratie e.V, a reading of Hank Greenspan’s play REMNANTS for the 2nd Annual National Jewish Theater Foundation – Holocaust Theater International Initiative Remembrance Readings, a presentation about the course and study trip by two students (Caroline Bell and Ben Williams), and the production of an archival book documenting the class. The archival book is particularly innovative – part scrapbook, part chapbook, part art object, the book includes extracts from writings students had done throughout the semester, reflections from students and instructors on the course and the study trip, hand-drawn charts, photo collages, and a fiber art cover that gestures towards Magdalena Abakanowicz and Joseph Beuys. The play reading, class presentation, and showing of the book all occurred during a public event on May 2nd.

The cover (designed by Rosi Goetz and Amanda), and Vita Lomeli Dadoo's page - including a pocket containing an essay she wrote on the gendering of Kristallnacht and her bio photos.
The cover (designed by Rosi Goetz and Amanda Scott), and Vita Dadoo Lomeli’s page – including a pocket containing an essay she wrote on the gendering of Kristallnacht and her bio photos.
Two of the spreads from the book
Two of the spreads from the archival book – the top pages cover the group’s visits to Sachsenhausen and Treptower Park (including a reflection by yours truly), and the bottom pages depict our visits to the House of the Wannsee Conference and the Bundestag/Reichstag.

Seven of these students graduated this past weekend, so I’m feeling extra verklempt as I write this – I’m so, so proud of the students from HIS/GER 433, not only for the high quality of the work that they produced by the end of the semester, but for their thoughtfulness and creativity throughout the class. I’m proud to have been a part of this group of people, teaching and learning from each other.

Outside of our wonderful students and faculty mentioned above, several other deserve thanks for making this course into the amazing experience it was: Gabe Ford for lending us his experience and bookmaking tools, the Weinstein and BACCA Funds for helping fund the study trip, the National Jewish Theater Foundation and Hank Greenspan for allowing us to stage the reading of his play, and the Davidson College administration for supporting this innovative model of course instruction and faculty/staff development. Big thanks also to my coworkers, for helping cover the archives reference desk while I spent so much time with the course.

I’ve been ruminating a lot on work-life balance recently – it’s a topic that comes up time and again across the many communities I identify as being a part of: archivists, librarians, digital humanists, academics. How much beyond 40-ish hours per week should I be giving my job? How do I “count” work done outside of the library building/not at my desk, as that’s sometimes invisible to others? My position is a staff position, which can sometimes be at odds with the collaborations and interactions I have with faculty on campus, whose working hours are different than most of our staff. I struggle with what’s best for the Davidson community, for my physical and mental health… but the answer has been boiling down to: for our students, our faculty, our community – I want to give all of my time. I want to be better, because this community deserves my best. I feel like I’ve drank the institutional Kool-Aid, but working for the archives of Davidson College has allowed me to learn so much, and I want to give back what I can to this community.

All that being said, I still have some more amazing images from the Berlin trip! So, capping off this post with pictures (some taken by me, some by other members of the group):

Bauhaus Archiv! I made a quick visit before our trip really got underway.
Bauhaus Archiv! I made a quick visit before our trip really got underway.
While I was at the Bauhaus Archiv, the rest of the group was making their way to Berlin - here, Rizwan, Rosi, Colin, and
While I was at the Bauhaus Archiv, the rest of the group was making their way to Berlin – here, Rizwan, Rosi, Colin, and Caroline B. all read on the floor of an airport.
Best graffiti at our local U Bahn - roughly translates to "cats against petty bourgeoisie"
Best graffiti at our local U Bahn – roughly translates to “cats against petty bourgeoisie” (although “Spießer” is one of those words that’s hard to translate, it seems).
Neue Synagoge, on Oranienburger Straße.
Neue Synagoge, on Oranienburger Straße – we stopped here on our first full day in Berlin, and Patricio gave a mini-lecture on the Moorish architectural style and La Convivencia.
Chatting with Caroline F. and Patricio on the tram - whenever members of the group got too cold, Scott lent his jacket out to them. Much appreciated!
Chatting with Caroline F. and Patricio on our way around Berlin – whenever members of the group got too cold, Scott lent his jacket out to them. Much appreciated!
You can't go to Berlin and NOT visit the Berlin Wall Memorial - we had interesting conversations throughout the trip about how the divided nature of Berlin and Germany as a whole affected memorialization of the Holocaust.
You can’t go to Berlin and NOT visit the Berlin Wall Memorial – we had interesting conversations throughout the trip about how the divided nature of Berlin and Germany as a whole affected public memorialization of the Holocaust.
The group packed into a mirrored elevator in the Bundestag, on our way to the Green Party's conference rooms. When this image was shared on our class whatsapp group text, Caroline B. captioned it "Dr. Zamir caught smiling."
The group packed into a mirrored elevator in the Bundestag, on our way to the Green Party’s conference rooms. When this image was shared on our class whatsapp group text, Caroline B. captioned it “Dr. Zamir caught smiling.”
One of my favorite pictures I took on the trip: Nora, Emily, and Kate in front of the Reichstag dome.
One of my favorite pictures I took on the trip: Nora, Emily, and Kate in front of the Reichstag dome.
Hannah Grace and Kyra in the Reichstag dome, German flag in the background.
Hannah Grace and Kyra in the Reichstag dome, with the German flag in the background.
Emily takes in the scale of Treptower Park - a really massive Soviet War Memorial.
Emily takes in the scale of Treptower Park – a really massive Soviet War Memorial.
The entrance to the memorial at Treptower Park.
The entrance to the memorial at Treptower Park.
We visited the amazing Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Haus Unter den Linden reading room, with this beautiful sculpture of gigantic newspapers. After our tour of the building, Michaela Schiebe gave us a lecture on Nazi looted books (picture by Alan Michael Parker).
We visited the amazing Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Haus Unter den Linden reading room, with this beautiful sculpture of gigantic newspapers. After our tour of the building, Michaela Scheibe gave us a lecture on Nazi looted books and we briefly chatted about German library schools and cataloging systems.
The group wanders through the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on our way to look at the Neue Wache.
The group wanders through the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on our way to look at the Neue Wache.
Ben, Matthew, and Patricio somberly examine a memorial to Jewish businesses in the fashion/clothing industry, outside of the Hausvogteiplatz U Bahn.
Ben, Matthew, and Patricio somberly examine a memorial to Jewish businesses in the fashion/clothing industry, outside of the Hausvogteiplatz U Bahn.
The group listens intently to Roman lecturing.
The group listens intently to Roman lecturing.
Prior to the trip, we'd had a class discussion on the Jewish Museum and it's complex and fascinating design. We talked about whether or not to walk on Menashe Kadishman installation of metal faces, whether walking or witnessing makes one more or less complicit.
Prior to the trip, we’d had a class discussion on the Jewish Museum and it’s complex and fascinating design (truly, you need to visit in person to really experience the intricate design and its physicality). We talked about whether or not to walk on Menashe Kadishman’s installation of metal faces, whether walking or witnessing makes one more or less complicit. Here, a few of our group walk on the sculpture.
Bolton takes a picture of the video playing in the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism.
Bolton takes a picture of the video playing in the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism.
Scuplture outside of the Deutsches Historisches Museum - "Einheit" means unity.
Sculpture outside of the Deutsches Historisches Museum – “Einheit” means unity.
Another new experience - my first döner, from Rosenthaler Grill und Schlemmerbuffet.
Another new experience – my first döner, from Rosenthaler Grill und Schlemmerbuffet.

Archives Month 2015

[This post originally ran on Around the D: The Davidson College Archives and Special Collections Blog.]

Every October is American Archives Month and North Carolina Archives Month, and here at the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections we’ve been celebrating the occasion in some way or another for the past seven years. However, for Archives Month 2015 we decided to really commit to Archives Month and experiment with some new methods of outreach and new collaborations. We’re a small shop (3 FTE), so I figured sharing our planning process and evaluating our activities at this halfway point between October 2015 and October 2016 might be useful for other archivists considering participating in Archives Month next year.

The 2015 North Carolina Archives Month theme was “Celebrating Archives: North Carolina Arts, Crafts, and Music Traditions,” so our first step was to sit down and consider what materials we have related to arts, crafts, and music in North Carolina. That led to planning one of our earliest events in the month, Mandolin Madness on October 5th.

Flyer advertising Mandolin Madness.
Flyer advertising Mandolin Madness.

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Day of DH 2016

Earlier this month, I participated in my third Day of DH, an international project designed to have digital humanists share what they do for a day.

I felt like I had even less time this year to live blog/tweet my day, and to read about others’ activities – April is definitely the cruellest month in academia, and as you’ll see in my Day of DH 2016 site, this was a particularly full day for me. You can read my Day of DH 2016 blog here (and see more about my Day of DH’s in 2014 and 2015), or peruse the #DayofDH2016 Twitter feed here.

Collaborative, Speculative, Possible Technologically-Enhanced Mobile Libraries

… Or How Davidson Students Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Library.

[This post is a companion piece to the poster I presented at the 2015 DHSI Colloquium and DH2015 , designed to further elucidate the ideas in the poster and provide additional context.]

To view the .pdf of this poster, click here.
Click on the image for the full-size version of my DHSI colloquium & DH 2015 poster, or click here to view the .pdf.

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Day of DH 2015

Earlier this week, I participated in my second Day of DH, an international project designed to have digital humanists share what they do for a day (in answer to the perennial “What exactly is digital humanities, anyway?”).

Although the constant blogging and tweeting can be time-consuming, I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear more about other DH-ers’ work and share my own. You can read my Day of DH 2015 blog here (and see more about my Day of DH in 2014 here), or peruse the #DayofDH2015 Twitter feed here.

Eating (and everything else!) in Austin for ER&L 2015 Attendees

In just one week I’m heading to my first Electronic Resources and Libraries meeting – I won one of the DLF/CLIR + ER&L Cross-Polinator Awards for this year! I’m really excited to go to a conference that’s a bit different than my standard, meet new people, and learn some new things. I’m also really excited for FOOD in Austin – I lived in ATX way back in 2010 and have family and friends in the area, so I’ve visited a bunch, too. Here are my recommendations for eating and other Austin activities for first-timers:

Tacos or DIE, taken at Torchy's in 2010.
Tacos or DIE, taken at Torchy’s in 2010.
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