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Naomi Wood - Research Visit to Philadelphia Archives & Libraries

 

I am researching the everyday lives and experiences of ‘ordinary’ Quaker women in the UK and early Americas in the period 1650 to 1750. It was with the American-side of my research in mind that I was generously offered a stipend from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to cover the costs associated with a research visit to Philadelphia in June of this year. In September last year (2012), I undertook a preliminary three-week research trip to three archives centres in the Philadelphia area, which hold the intellectual content of American Quakerism – Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, the Quaker and Special Collection at Haverford College and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Having spent the past 6 months analysing the materials I had photographed, I was therefore in a position to follow up on certain leads, check references and gather/photograph further primary source material for assessment.

The ten-day research visit which I undertook chiefly consisted of photographing materials relating to the role of women in the Quaker meeting system and the types of women involved in the organisational structure of the movement, which will eventually form the third chapter of my thesis. Using the resources available at Swarthmore I was able to photograph thirty-four sets of records pertaining to the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings in Chester County, Pennsylvania. From these records I will be able to partially reconstruct the lives of the women who occupied prominent positions in the meetings and their socio-economic status. I was also able to locate and photograph abstracts of the wills relating to Chester County for my period and hope, where possible, to be able to determine the wealth of the individuals involved in the meeting system.

During the visit, I was also able to draw upon the manuscript collections of family papers and personal correspondence available at Haverford College and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Some of the resources, including a particularly useful collection of correspondence of some of the female members of wealthy merchant families in Philadelphia (the Pemberton, Norris and Logan families), will enable me to reconstruct more fully the family life and networks of women within the early American Quaker community.

The Centre for the Study of the Renaissance was invaluable in providing the support for me to book my trip and develop an itinerary which was suited to my research needs. This included a car rental, which enabled me to travel easily between the different archive centres. Fortunately this flexibility proved incredibly useful when faced with some unforeseen circumstances during my stay. I actually ended up arriving in the midst of the US open Golf Tournament, which was being partially-hosted at Haverford College, where I hoped to complete some of my research. It also had an unfortunate impact on the traffic conditions and public transportation systems in the area. This was combined with some unusually severe weather, which included flash-flooding. Swarthmore College was also struck by lightning during a particularly vicious storm whilst I was working there. This rather unexpected turn of events meant that much of the archivists’ time was devoted to recovering materials in the aftermath of the fire. However, none of the records held within the Library itself were damaged and in true American-style the archives continued to run calmly and efficiently.

During my trip I was able to develop good links with the various institutions where I was working, as well as the opportunity to get in touch with researchers working on similar projects, who made some valuable recommendations. I also had the opportunity to visit the Library Company of Pennsylvania, which proved highly useful and enabled me to access a number of printed resources, which I would not have been able to locate on ordinary electronic catalogues. In talking about my research to the archivists I was also encouraged to apply for fellowships and bursaries for future projects, including the Moore Stipend at Swarthmore, the Gest Fellowship at Haverford and the Visiting Research Fellowship in Colonial and US History and Culture at the HSP and Library Company of Philadelphia, all of which I am actively considering applying for in the next academic year. The archivists at Swarthmore became so used to me being there, that I was even offered cake and pizza on my last day – probably not something that I will experience anywhere else in my career! The archivists have also offered to assist me with my research on my return to the UK, which I’m sure, will prove incredibly useful as I move into the final stages of my PhD.

Whilst the majority of my time was spent working, when the archives closed I was also able to sample some of the American lifestyle and culture. This included a trip to Amish Country in Lancaster, PA, which was an eye-opening experience and highlighted the broad religious pluralism which existed in the State – a legacy of the early Quaker settlers to which much of the region’s social and economic structure continues to be indebted.

The assistance and on-going support I have received from the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, particularly from Maude Vanhaelen and Jayne Brown, has been exceptional. I am very grateful for the opportunity to travel to four such intellectually stimulating and highly-relevant archive centres, which has enabled me to keep moving forward with my research. It has also given me the much-needed opportunity to contextualise and frame my research within the broader history of early American culture. I am also pleased to have made such vital contacts during my trip and placed myself in a more advantageous position for securing funding and fellowship grants in the future, none of which would have been possible without this generous stipend. I believe that it is this combination of information-gathering and networking that will stand me in good stead not only for my PhD thesis, but also for my future career in Academia.

 

Haverford Campus

Haverford Campus

Haverford Quaker and Special Collections

Haverford Quaker and Special Collections

 
Swarthmore Friends Historical Library

Swarthmore Friends Historical Library