Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Schomburg-Mellon Summer Humanities Institute 9 Years Later

Alexsandra Mitchell

By Kenton Rambsy

On June 21, 2018, I gave a talk about DH to nine Fellows at the Schomburg-Mellon summer humanities institute in Harlem, New York. According to the library’s website, “The Institute, with the help of renowned scholars, will develop and nurture the students’ interest in the appropriate disciplines, and provide them with the requisite intellectual challenges and orientations needed to pursue humanities careers and to reach their full potential.”

During the summer of 2009, I was a Fellow at the Institute. I met my future dissertation advisor, Professor Maryemma Graham, during the institute. We stayed in contact after her talk, and she encouraged me to pursue graduate studies at the University of Kansas, where she is a professor. I can remember her saying, “There is this field developing called ‘Digital Humanities.’ I’m not sure about the exact parameters of the field. But I’m eager to train a graduate student in that area.”

As a fellow in the Schomburg-Mellon institute, I met Alexsandra Mitchell, then a rising senior at in Africana Studies at Howard University . I often refer to her as my “partner-in-crime.” We regularly found ourselves on the subway exploring various parts of New York during our downtime from working at the Schomburg. Since our time at the institute, I’ve run into Alex on numerous occasions at conferences and other cultural events across the country.

Alex now works as reference librarian and archivist at Schomburg Center. Since our time at the institute, Alex has gone on to earn her MA in Africana Studies from NYU, and a Master’s in Library Science from the Palmer School LIU. Currently, Alex is a PhD student at Cornell University.

Since being at the Schomburg, she has worked on processing the Baldwin and the Cheryl Boyce Taylor papers as well as other collections. c (Phyfe dog’s mom) and other collections independently. She is also the curator of the Schomburg Center’s, “Live From the Reading Room: Correspondence” podcast series, ‘Live From the Archive’ programming series, and The Schomburg Center’s community archives program.

Even though Alex is an archivist and I am a digital humanities literary scholar, we both gained valuable lessons from our experiences at the Schomburg. At the Institute, we worked on assembling various components of the Digital Schomburg with our other cohort members. That project was one of my first major experiences preparing archival materials for online audiences. We had to identify collections that we thought were interesting enough to display on the library’s website.

Looking back, I now realize the importance of that summer was for how both Alex and I developed in our respective fields. On the one hand, early on in our academic development, we cultivated relationships with peers and distinguished scholars and received early experience working in digital archiving. On the other hand, we gained meaningful experiences as undergraduates working with special collections as we sifted through various collections at the Schomburg. Even though we didn’t know it then, our time at the Schomburg was already priming us for our future careers as researchers.

10 Years as a Mellon Fellow

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