Tag Archives: American Studies

History Major Katherine DeFonzo on Her Internship at the Smithsonian

History major Katherine DeFonzo in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Earlier this summer, History major Katherine DeFonzo reached out to faculty member Christopher Dietrich about the work she was doing at her internship at the Archives Center at the American Museum of National History (a part of the Smithsonian Institution). Katherine wrote:

I just wanted to share with you a project that I’ve gotten to work on during this first week of my internship at the Smithsonian. I remember watching a scene from All in the Family during your class, and the museum recently received many boxes from the collection of Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker on the show. My fellow interns and I have spent much of this week organizing and cataloging them! It has been very exciting: in the collection we found her programs from the Emmy Awards, many newspaper clippings about her performances, and some letters written between her and other famous individuals, including Bill Clinton! It has been interesting to see how her roles reflected the changes that took place in the US during her lifetime.
We wrote back to Katherine to find out more about her internship and her experience this summer working as a Reference Intern at the Archives Center. She told us a bit about how she got the position, the work she’s been doing, and how it relates to her work at Fordham.
As a History major, I am considering pursuing a career working in a museum or archive. Hoping to gain experience in this area, I applied to several internships at various Smithsonian organizations through the Smithsonian Internship online Portal, including the Museum of American History Internship Pool. Mr. Joe Hursey, a reference archivist in the Archives Center at the Museum, reached out to me. I was offered a position as a reference intern.

 

I work 9-4 each day from Monday through Friday. During the hour before the Archives reading room opens, it is part of my job to tidy up the reading room for the day and re-shelve document boxes that were used the previous day. Each day, I have a two or three hour shift helping to staff the reference desk. When researchers come into the reading room, it is my responsibility and that of my fellow interns to pull and bring out the boxes that they have requested. I have also occasionally been tasked with responding to phone or e-mail questions from researchers. When not working on the desk, I work on processing and assisting with the upkeep of various collections. This has involved alphabetizing and sorting by date collection materials; copying newspaper articles from those collections; and sometimes rehousing photographs and slides from the collections. My fellow interns and I were also tasked with helping to come up with the series and subseries titles that would be used to organize some new collection materials. As part of my internship, my fellow interns and I also got to hear some curators in the museum share their experiences with us, and we were able to visit other historical institutions throughout Washington D.C. such as the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and the Archives of American Art.

 

As a student in the Honors Program who almost always has at least one book checked out of the Fordham Library, I am glad that this internship gave me the opportunity to better understand the extensive knowledge that librarians and reference archivists must have in order to serve the students and researchers who come to them for assistance. I have always believed that preserving and making accessible primary source documents is essential to the preservation of history, and I am grateful that this internship allowed me to see some of the ways in which that is done. While none of my Fordham classes have involved a hands-on component that could have prepared me for the actual processing work that this internship has required, the extensive amount of writing that I have done as an Honors Program student has prepared me to write the blog post that I have about the Jean Stapleton Papers, which I hope will be published. I hope that I will be able to utilize some of the research skills that I have improved over the course of this summer as I begin to complete research for my Honors Thesis.
Thanks so much for the update, Katherine. The History Department is proud to have one of its own helping out at at such an important repository of American history and culture.

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Grad Student Publications, A Summer Series: Pt. 1 Stephen Leccese

PhD student Stephen Leccese, who recently published two journal articles.

Students in Fordham’s MA and PhD programs produce original research of the highest quality, and are encouraged to publish this work when and where it is appropriate during their time in the program. The academic year 2016-2017 saw the appearance of articles by a number of our students in different peer-reviewed volumes and journals. We asked our students who published their work to tell us a little bit about the articles and the writing process and we’ll feature these students and their publications in a short blog series.

First up is Stephen Leccese, an American historian in the PhD program working with Professor Christopher Dietrich. Leccese has achieved the remarkable feat of publishing two journal articles virtually simultaneously. He wrote to tell us about both:

“John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 16.3 (July 2017): 245-63.

This article is a shortened version of my Master’s research paper, which Prof. Chris Dietrich advised. I became interested in progressivism in Prof. Dietrich’s American Political and Intellectual History since 1877 class, particularly on how the “robber barons” defended themselves against attacks from progressive muckrakers who exposed businessmen’s unethical practices. For a case study, it was natural to look at the Standard Oil Company, the most visible of the great trusts and the subject of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s classic The History of the Standard Oil Company. Since the Supreme Court successfully dissolved Standard Oil in 1911, historians have exclusively considered the company’s response to Ida Tarbell insufficient from a public relations perspective. Yet from what I saw, no historians had actually examined what the company did do. That was how I found my historiographical gap. I decided to go into the archives and tell the story of how Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller attempted to recover their reputations with public statements, official histories, and some of the first professional PR agents in American history. When placed in historical context, this response was groundbreaking – the field of PR was in its infancy, so Standard Oil agents were largely making this up as they went along. Going further, I tied this small study to the Progressive Movement at large. In the Standard Oil case, progressives attacked a corporation, and that corporation defended itself by developing the PR field. This started a trend of other businesses following suit, and by the 1920s the modern public relations field was largely established. Therefore, I argue that the anti-business activities of the progressives inadvertently helped big business establish itself. The editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era liked this provocative argument about progressivism, and it definitely helped get this article published.

 

“Economic Inequality and the New School of American Economics,” Special Issue – Growing Apart: Religious Reflection on the Rise of Economic Inequality, Religions 8.6 (2017): 99-110.

This article began life as my first-year PhD research paper, where I examined how a new generation of American economists argued that consumer spending was key to economic growth, breaking from previous classical economics. After some revising, I presented the paper at the Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality Interdisciplinary Conference at Boston College in March, 2016. After the conference, the organizers contacted me and said that my paper was among a group that they would like to publish in a special issue of the journal Religions (the conference sponsor was the BC theology department, hence the journal choice). I accepted and expanded the paper into a peer-reviewed piece. In the article, I examine how the various crises of the late nineteenth century – namely economic depression and increasing labor unrest – showed a group of younger economists that economic inequality was harmful to the social fabric. They argued that greater equality would create a working class that had increased spending power, which would lead to economic growth and more stable class relations. My main sources were numerous economic publications and several archival collections that these economists left behind. After establishing this new theory of consumption, I trace how the New Economists tried to put their ideas into practice. Importantly, they formed the American Economic Association in 1885 with the intention of spreading their message among the economic community. I conclude briefly by showing that by the 1890s, the New Economists were influencing public policy by working with politicians – particularly, several directly advised Theodore Roosevelt, first when he was governor of New York and later when he was president. The overall claim is that mass consumption was an aspect of social reform, something that is typically not considered in histories of consumerism.

 

Thanks Stephen, and congratulations on your two articles!

 

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What do historians do in the summertime? Postcard from Dartmouth

Statue of Robert Frost, Dartmouth College

Statue of Robert Frost, Dartmouth College

The summer provides scholars with opportunities to get together and workshop their research at institutes, seminars, and symposia  intended to foster group discussions on discrete topics like theory and methodology. For students of American History, one of the best opportunities to meet and discuss their work is the Futures of American Studies Summer Institute. This year, students and faculty from Fordham were invited to apply to participate in the Dartmouth institute with support from the Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Among the community of Fordham Americanists who participated was Glenn Hendler, Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department, who gave a talk entitled ““The Civil War and the Ends of the State.” Also among the Fordham delegation was History PhD student Stephen Leccese, who presented work in progress on nineteenth-century mass consumption and economic thought. Stephen sent us this postcard with details of his experience at the institute.

The best part was workshopping a paper at the Institute. We broke into seminar sessions of about 10 people each in the afternoons. Each day 2 or 3 people read a paper they were working on- it could have been a dissertation chapter, an article proposal, or anything else. I read “Nineteenth-Century Economic Thought and New Perspectives on the Rise of Mass Consumption,” a slight revision of the paper I worked on during our Research Colloquium. I got some very interesting feedback from people outside my field, since about 95% of the seminar participants were from English or Literary Studies departments. While I was skeptical about how helpful their comments would be, I was surprised at how interested they were in a work of history. They provided some great suggestions that I will certainly be adding into my paper as I work on it further.

The Dartmouth campus at night

The Dartmouth campus at night

Overall it was a very welcoming environment. Highly accomplished scholars, early career academics, advanced and early PhD students all interacted together without any sort of hierarchy. Even though I was in a different discipline than most other participants and was also much earlier in my PhD work (most were several years in and working on their dissertations), all expressed legitimate interest in what I was working on.

Although there wasn’t much down time (we attended about 40 talks throughout the week, plus meeting with our seminars every afternoon), I did have a very nice dinner out with my seminar group after our last meeting. It was a chance to be much more casual around everyone after a week of pretty serious scholarly discussion. I plan on maintaining contact with several members of that seminar, both as colleagues and friends.

It was an educational experience because I’ve only studied history since I started college. There were very clear methodological differences between myself and the rest of the participants. Though I don’t agree with all of the methodologies from Literary Criticism, I very much appreciated the chance to see these scholars in action. It gave me a view of something I’d never seen before.

 

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