My fourth co-op finds me in Washington D.C. living with Antioch alums Karen and Jim Foreit. Essentially this has been an independent research co-op, as Karen Velasquez, Kevin Mulhall, Jane Foreman, Keegan Busick, Hanna Strange and I received a grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association to spend ten days in the Library of Congress researching a proposed topic of our choice. We decided to pursue a project based around the inclusion of immigrants and refugees (especially undocumented immigrants) in American higher education. The grant officially allotted for ten days in D.C., but I shaped my entire co-op around this project and have been dedicating all my time to it, so I will be able to spend more time in the library if I need to. With the newspaper clippings, journal articles and books I have found as a result of this ten day experience, I hope to author a paper for presentation at the digital humanities symposium to be held at WYSO in October.
I focused my project on the relationship between the expansion of the tourist industry in Puerto Rico, Pan American Airways decision to offer regular air service between San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York, and the reaction of New Yorkers to an increased presence of Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States. I chose this topic because I read a section in Phil Tiemeyer’s fabulous book Plane Queer about how Puerto Ricans resettling in New York were the first group of economic migrants in history to reach their new home by plane. This stuck me as unusual, or at least something worth pursuing because commercial aviation at this point was prohibitively expensive. I’m curious about the role of official citizenship to a society and its relationship to societal inclusion. Additionally, I was curious about the status of Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States, as they were granted American citizenship in 1917 but due to linguistic and racial factors are often treated much like international immigrants and outsiders to white American culture.
As part of our grant, we had a team of librarians on hand to assist us at basically any point in the project, for which I am incredibly grateful. Doing research in the Library of Congress is different from library research I have done in the past because all the stacks are closed, meaning you can’t just browse for something you are looking for and stumble across other relevant books. I’m torn about the closed-stack nature of the LOC, because while I understand their desire to protect their books and how inconvenient the massive size of the library would make browsing, it was difficult and time-consuming to search for and request books using the online catalogue. Several times, I got a message saying that the book I had requested was not on the shelf, which I later learned was probably as a result of overcrowding in the library. There are more books than can fit on the shelves, and oftentimes excess books end up in piles near the shelf they are supposed to be on, making it difficult for even the most polished librarian to find them.
Security is very tight at the library, and each day started off with a trip through a metal detector and an inspection of our bags. (Our bags were additionally searched at the end of the day as a precaution against thieves.) We were able to use the special researcher’s entrance to avoid the long tourist lines. Once again, I thought this was going to be akin to going through airport security, but the only point at which someone asked to see identification was upon entering any of the reading rooms.
When the grant period first began, I imagined that gaining access to the reading rooms of the Library of Congress was extremely difficult and by appointment only. However, it turns out that all we needed to do was present valid identification to get our reader cards and then the vast resources of the library were all available to us. (Perhaps that is a bit misleading- nearly all of the vast holdings were available to us. As casual observers we would not be able to simply request to view some of the extremely rare holdings of the library without an extremely valid research proposal. For the most part, though, we were able to make full use of the library’s reading rooms, books, databases, and other materials.) Using the huge number of databases available was an incredible experience and extremely helpful in my research.
Using the New York Times online database allowed me to locate primary source documents about the arrival of Puerto Ricans to New York as well as see the development of advertising for Pan-American Airways’ flights between San Juan and New York. Additionally, I found an interesting series of articles detailing New York’s reaction to Puerto Ricans. New Yorkers apparently wanted to place limits on (or altogether ban) Puerto Rican migration to New York, which engages directly with the theme of our project on access to higher education, citizenship, and migration and suggests that citizenship really isn’t the key issue in terms of deciding access to jobs or higher education. I can’t wait to read all the resources I have sitting on my hard drive. My strategy for making the most of my time in the LOC was to download as many articles as seemed useful at a cursory glance so that I can amass as much information to sort through later. Of course, because I am spending the entire summer in D.C., I could go back and continue researching if the need arises.
I will use the rest of my co-op term to draft and refine my paper, which I expect to be between 15 and 20 pages. Although this does not directly tie into what I would like to pursue for my senior project, this co-op has been good practice in gathering information and researching a specific topic. It has been fun to live in a city with public transportation and with so much to do, especially free things to do.