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Report Surveys Changing Landscape of Archival Research and Graduate Student Research Experiences

Contact:          Kathlin Smith

Washington, DC, May 24, 2016-A new report from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) surveys the current landscape of archival research and the experiences of emerging scholars seeking to navigate it. Terra Cognita: Graduate Students in the Archives, draws upon data from CLIR’s Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, currently in its fifteenth year.

The report takes an in-depth look at how the conditions and practices of original source research have changed in recent decades and what communities invested in cultural heritage research can do to better support new scholarship in this evolving context. “Improving support for junior scholars is a responsibility shared by graduate departments, cultural heritage institutions, professional associations, and funders,” writes CLIR Program Officer for Scholarly Resources Nicole Ferraiolo in a foreword to the report.

Part one of the report presents an assessment of the fellowship program based on data that fellows submitted in their final reports to CLIR between 2003 and 2015. Lori Jahnke, of Emory University, and Amanda Watson, of New York University, analyzed the reports and make recommendations for how graduate departments, cultural heritage institutions, and funders can better support original source scholarship. These include improving graduate training, building communities around archives, and facilitating more robust exchanges among scholars about archival methods.

In part two, program mentors Elliott Shore and Ryan Kashanipour share observations based on their work with the fellows. Shore, of the Association for Research Libraries, and Kashanipour, of the College of William and Mary and Northern Arizona University, stress the value of interdisciplinary exchange and recommend mentorship that supports not only the students’ development as scholars, but also their emergence as professionals in higher education.

Part three presents broader perspectives on original source research, prompted by discussions at a meeting hosted by CLIR in January 2016. Contributors William Thomas III, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Michael Suarez, of the Rare Book School and University of Virginia, address the changing practices of original research in the digital era. Thomas examines attitudes about working with original sources and the adoption of digital technologies in creating and accessing archives. Suarez explores why the ability to “read” textual artifacts remains important even as humanities scholars increasingly rely on digital surrogates for their research.

The volume closes with an afterword by CLIR President Charles Henry that contemplates the intellectual and contextual challenges of conducting original source research today. “So much depends on a well-managed library or archive, helpful staff, and a logical organization of knowledge,” he writes. “Under ideal conditions, hours are posted, promises are kept, and engagement with our subject is perturbed ever so slightly by the soft scratch of a favored pen or click of a muted keyboard. This is often not the case in the experience of our Mellon Fellows. Theirs is a more adventurous narrative . . . ”

Throughout the volume are brief reflections by past fellows about their research experiences and how the fellowship has influenced their careers.

The report is available as a PDF download free of charge at

The Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources,funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, promote creative approaches to original source research and recognize exemplary graduate scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. It aims to promote forward-looking collaborative solutions that transcend disciplinary, institutional, professional, and geographic boundaries in support of the public good.

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