Special Collections Fuel Research

Many LSU students frequent Middleton Library in the heart of “the Quad,” but fewer venture a handful of paces west, where floor upon floor of history awaits eager researchers in Hill Memorial Library.

The John S. McIlhenny Research Fellowship has been awarded to six graduate students, enabling them to conduct extensive research using resources unavailable elsewhere. “It is one of the few fellowships on offer in the USA that provides both domestic and international graduate students with the financial support necessary to undertake archival research,” said 2010 fellowship recipient Kelly Birch, a graduate student from Australia’s University of Adelaide.

Birch’s research at LSU was featured in her recently published article “The Penalty of a Tyrant’s Law: Landscapes of Incarceration during the Second Slavery,” co-authored with Thomas C. Buchanan.

Birch said the opportunity afforded her by the fellowship was invaluable to her researching endeavors, sharing, “While digital collections are expanding and many resources can be accessed via the Internet and interlibrary loan services, long-distance research is no substitute for visiting the archives, searching through the catalogues and speaking face-to-face with staff members who are not only friendly, but who know the archives inside-out.”

Elaine Smyth, interim dean of LSU Libraries, said McIlhenny’s original donation to the libraries, the E.A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection, was motivated by his desire to share the books with people who could use and appreciate them. McIlhenny later established the Coypu Foundation, which funded the fellowships.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to make our stellar collections more widely known among scholars, while also supporting development of young scholars from around the world,” Smyth said.

Birch said she appreciated being able to experience not only the Special Collections, but also Louisiana. “The opportunity to visit the region, and to be able to experience the humidity (which I loved), learn how to properly pronounce ‘Natchitoches’ (my accent didn’t help), and walk through the restored plantation buildings at LSU’s Rural Life Museum provides an added dimension to the knowledge gleaned from reading through the library’s archival materials,” she said.

Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2013.

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