News & Ideas

Episode 110: The Thrill of Archival Discovery

Tamar Gonen Brown speaking to BPS students

Episode 110: The Thrill of Archival Discovery, with Tamar Gonen Brown

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On This Episode

Tamar Gonen Brown, head of education and outreach at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library, gives us a peek into the fascinating world of archives. She uses rare archival materials not only to teach students research skills but also to train them on how to be “history detectives” in their own right and to share the thrill of discovery.

Some useful background from Gonen Brown:
The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America collects material that documents the history of women, gender, and sexuality in the United States, and the scope and extent of our collections means that there are many topics beyond gender history that researchers can investigate through our holdings. The Library is certainly not the only repository dedicated to documenting gender and US women’s history—there is the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University, the Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History at Smith College, and the Pembroke Center Archives at Brown University, for example. The historian Mary Ritter Beard was an important early advocate, beginning in the 1930s, for the need to collect documents that reflect women’s lives and work, and the Schlesinger Library was in fact called the Women’s Archives until it was renamed in honor of Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger in 1965. Beard’s idea of a singular archives dedicated to documenting all aspects of women’s lives on a global scale never came to pass, and we are now among a cohort of repositories that are explicitly dedicated to documenting the history of women and gender. At the Schlesinger, one of our priorities is working to ensure that the collections document the full range of women’s experiences in American history, including the stories of women of color, immigrant women, queer and trans women, and other historically marginalized communities.

This episode was recorded on August 9, 2023.
Released on December 19, 2023.

Guest

Tamar Gonen Brown, a research and teaching librarian, is the head of education and outreach at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America. She earned a PhD in English and American language and literature from Harvard, a master’s in library and information science from Simmons University, and a bachelor’s from the University of Chicago.

Related Content

Tamar Gonen Brown: Harvard Library Biography

Schlesinger Library: Teaching and Learning with Special Collections

Zooming the Archives

75 Stories, 75 Years

Credits

Ivelisse Estrada is your cohost and the editorial lead at Harvard Radcliffe Institute (HRI), where she edits Radcliffe Magazine.

Alan Catello Grazioso is the executive producer of BornCurious and the senior multimedia manager at HRI.

Jeff Hayash is a freelance sound engineer and recordist.

Marcus Knoke is a multimedia intern at HRI, a Harvard College student, and the general manager of Harvard Radio Broadcasting.

Heather Min is your cohost and the senior manager of digital strategy at HRI.

Anna Soong is the production assistant at HRI.

Transcript

[MUSIC]

Heather Min:
Hello again. Welcome back to BornCurious. How are you, Ivelisse?

Ivelisse Estrada:
Pretty, pretty good, Heather. It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of season one. And we have something special for our final episode. Our guest is Tamar Gonen Brown, a much-loved colleague here at Radcliffe. Tamar joined Radcliffe in 2017 as a research librarian in our Schlesinger Library, and she’s now the head of education and outreach at the Library.

Heather Min:
Our episode explores something that many of us know little about—archives. And we are fortunate, because Tamar’s job is in large part about teaching those who have little experience in archives not only how to use them but how to explore their mysteries and to learn through discovery.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Yup. And we think hearing Tamar talk about her work will open your eyes. There is nothing fusty about her approach. In fact, a few years ago, we published an article about students using the Schlesinger, and Tamar shared one of her favorite moments, which was when a professor who was teaching using the archives announced to her students at the beginning of class, “this isn’t graded, it’s just for joy.” It’s clear that Tamar shares that joy.

Heather Min:
And a bit more about Tamar—she earned a PhD in English and American language and literature from Harvard, a master’s in library and information science from Simmons University, and a bachelor’s from the University of Chicago.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Thanks, Heather. And Tamar, welcome.

Heather Min:
Here’s a very basic question. What’s the difference between a library and an archive?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
So, you might call it a basic question, but I think it’s a good question. There is a lot of overlap, of course, in the mission of libraries and archives, especially at a place like Harvard, where libraries and archives are all collecting material and making it available for research and for discovery. I think probably, I would say the main difference is in the kinds of materials that you’ll find in a library versus in archives.

You can walk into a library at Harvard—Lamont or Widener—and check out almost any published thing you could imagine. Archives tend to have material that is unique, rare, highly specialized—manuscripts, letters, unpublished things. And because of that rarity, the way you access the material is also usually really different in an archive. So, our materials don’t circulate. You have to come in and sit in the reading room to use them.

Heather Min:
And who can access these things? And can you give us examples of what you mean?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. Sure. Anyone can access materials at the Schlesinger. You don’t have to be a scholar on your fifth book. We have undergrads. We have high school students. We have members of the general public who are doing genealogical research or who are just curious about something in our collections.

They can’t come in and browse the stacks. They usually have to plan out their research visit, often with the help of a librarian in advance. But because our material is often unique, it’s the only place you can get it, so we want to let anybody who needs it have access. So, anyone can come in.

And some examples of what we have—we often will collect the private papers of public individuals. For example, we have the papers of Angela Davis, a prominent activist-scholar, sort of living luminary. And you can look at letters that she wrote in her 20s to her parents or diaries, correspondence, as well as research notes, subject files that she collected as part of her own research and writing. There’s a lot—a huge variety—of material that you’ll find in an archival collection.

Heather Min:
So, since people have to plan ahead and contact you before they walk through the door, how do they even know what you have that might be of interest to them?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That’s a great question. All of our materials are cataloged in HOLLIS, which is Harvard’s online library catalog. So, you can do a keyword search for something that you’re interested in. If you’re interested in culinary history, you can look up cooking or cookbooks and find all of the materials that we have related to that topic.

For archival collections, archivists create documents called finding aids, which are like a detailed map of everything that’s in a collection. So, you can imagine collections often come to us. They come to us in whatever state the collector has kept them in. Maybe they’re a super organized person that had everything in labeled folders and file cabinets, or maybe they just had boxes in their basement where they threw all of their things after they were done using them. And the material comes to us, and archivists will either preserve the original order of the material, if that seems meaningful and seems like it would have research value, or they will organize and create an order that will make the material usable for researchers.

And then, they create a finding aid, which lets you know what’s in every folder and what’s in every box. And researchers can then use that document. A collection can be hundreds and hundreds of boxes. Researchers can use the finding aid to locate exactly the folder that they want to find. So, if they are interested in Angela Davis’s prison abolition work, they can search for that and find out what’s related in the collection.

Ivelisse Estrada:
My papers would just be files. I mean, just piles. Piles of paper. Here you go. [CHUCKLES]

Heather Min:
To clarify, starting point 1, HOLLIS, you mentioned. That’s H-O-L-L-I-S dot Harvard dot edu. And that’s the online catalog, where people can start, right?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That’s right. That’s Harvard Library’s online catalog, so all of Harvard’s many repositories have their materials cataloged there.

Ivelisse Estrada:
And now, let’s talk about your work at the Schlesinger.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, so I am a research librarian. And I also steward the library’s teaching program. So, my work—part of that work involves being in our reading room, helping researchers who are coming in and using the reading room. There is a lot of meeting over the phone, over Zoom, corresponding over e-mail in advance to help researchers understand our collections, understand how to use Hollis, as well as Hollis for Archival Discovery, which is our catalog of finding aids.

But then, I also work closely with members of the faculty at Harvard as well as other area colleges and universities, and even K-through-12 schools who are teaching on topics that intersect in some ways with our collections and who are interested in bringing their classes in to work with primary sources.

Ivelisse Estrada:
About how many classes do you work with per semester, let’s say?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
I would say it is usually somewhere between 20 to 30 classes.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Wow.

Heather Min:
Harvard College classes or high school classes? What do you mean?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
The bulk of our classes are Harvard College classes. And in fact, I do some outreach by looking through the course catalog and looking for courses that are about topics that sound like they would relate well to materials in our collections, and then I’ll reach out to the instructors and see if they might be interested in planning an archival visit. So that is how we make some of our connections.

And then, also often, instructors will reach out to us and say that they are interested in having some kind of engagement with primary sources for the students. Or perhaps the students are working on their own independent research projects and they need the students to actually build archival literacy, learn the skills that they’ll need to use the collections. So sometimes we’re teaching more of, this is how you do the research, and sometimes it’s more of a curated experience. Come in and look at these primary source documents that might inspire you to make new connections or new discoveries related to your class topic.

Heather Min:
Can you tell us about one of the Harvard College classes that you work with? What’s the class? And is it a—what kind of class is it, and an example or two of how students engage with the collections?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, of course. So, one class that’s interesting—it is a Gen Ed class called Power to the People, taught by Professor Michael Bronski. What’s interesting about that class is it’s a large lecture format in the Gen Ed program. Often, the classes that come to us are small seminars, but in this case, Professor Bronski really wanted his students to do their own independent archival research.

And these are students from all concentrations at Harvard, so some who may never have used archives before. So, he developed an assignment that would bring the students into the library to do their own independent work. And I went and met with them in advance to talk a little bit about the kinds of skills you need to read a finding aid as well as how you plan a visit to the reading room, what to expect.

Because all of it is a little bit different if you’ve never been to an archives before. You have to put all of your things away in a locker. You can only bring a laptop or a phone with you, maybe a pencil. We don’t even let you bring your own paper. We have special lined blue paper that researchers can use in the reading room. But if you’re coming in for the first time, it can be a little bit daunting. And you might feel like don’t know exactly what to do or how to behave in this space. So, we did a session that was about preparing them to come into the reading room.

And then, a lot of one-on-one consultation with students to help them further prepare. And then, they came in. We had a set of—a sort of selected set of boxes, so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by navigating all of the library’s collections.

And they had an assignment to find one or two documents and write about those documents. So, it was really, I think, for them, a feeling of, what am I going to find here? And they discovered a broad range of things and, I think, were able to really have that excitement of realizing that they are writing about this raw material, right?

It’s very different from reading a scholarly article and responding to it or reading a published book. You’re looking at the original evidence in a very unmediated way and coming up with your own interpretation of it.

Ivelisse Estrada:
How do you shepherd them through this process? I mean, do you—do you have a background in education? Is there—what goes into teaching these kids?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That’s a great question. I think a big part of it is figuring out, at first, in collaboration with the instructor, what the learning goals are for that session. I don’t have a background in education per se.

I have a PhD in English literature and taught in that context, as well as a degree in library science. And I think that in library schools now, there is a lot of understanding that librarians are educators and will need to teach with their collections, whatever those collections are. So, in that sense, I’ve thought a lot about how to teach with library tools, including with primary sources.

Ivelisse Estrada:
And you mentioned that a lot of it is what are the goals and what does the instructor want the students to get out of this. But I’m curious about what some of the challenges are once the students are in the collections.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That is a great question. There are a lot of challenges, some of which are kind of fun to navigate, and I’ll just throw out one simple one—handwriting. Often, students today have not learned cursive in fourth or fifth grade, and they’re not really familiar with reading handwritten documents.

And it can be really daunting to suddenly see a letter that was written in 1850 in front of you on the table. And what do you do with it?

Ivelisse Estrada:
I mean, I did learn handwriting, and I can tell you right now that deciphering my grandmother’s letters to me was really—was a difficult task. And I knew how to read cursive, so.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That’s right. I will—sometimes if I’m lucky, I have a document that’s written in an absolutely beautiful cursive hand, and then you can kind of really get the students to understand what they’re looking at and notice the patterns. Sometimes it’s kind of a disaster.

But even then, I think we can often—if I encourage the students to stick with it, to take their time, they will usually, suddenly realize, oh, I can tell—even if it’s—they can tell that the first word is "dear," you know, I’ll say, what is this? It’s a letter. How do you usually start a letter?

And then, they’ll realize, oh, it says, "dear mother." And sometimes once they have figured that out, they feel empowered and brave enough to keep going.

Heather Min:
It’s a decoding mission.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
It really is. Yeah. And I think it also is challenging just to see these materials, often with very little context. We don’t have time to give them an entire lecture and background on the individual whose papers they’re looking at, often. So maybe they’re in a seminar that is about Pauli Murray, so they know a lot about Pauli Murray, and then they’re coming in to use that collection.

But maybe they have never heard the name "Pauli Murray" before, and they are going to look at a letter that’s from that collection, and they’re going to try to make some meaning from the letter without really necessarily knowing a lot. So, the document may generate a lot of questions for them rather than answers. And I think that can be an exciting place for students to be, but also sometimes a little challenging or intimidating.

So just making them understand that they are not expected to know everything, that this is a journey of discovery, and part of it is about figuring out the questions to ask, I think, is one of the challenges, but also one of the rewards of teaching in this way.

Heather Min:
Why is it important and valuable, do you think, as a learning tool that students as well as researchers of all ages engage with primary materials, the actual physical documents why is it important to get these letters and diaries and—I don’t know—business receipts, perhaps, that were part of their actual lives?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. I think it is important on so many levels. And I love all the examples that you just gave. Like, you might look at some receipts, and maybe that gives you insight into, I don’t know, how important it was to get a text published, because the grocery bills were high and the writer really needed the money. Or how much did Audre Lorde get paid by one of her—one of the early independent presses that published her work? You can actually find evidence like that in the collections that might really give you a new kind of insight into a person’s life and work.

There is also—I mean, just the excitement—I think we recently had Harvard Summer School class. So these are high school students getting a feel for college life and college learning for the first time. And we were looking—it was an Intro to gender studies course, and one of the students was looking at letters that Alice Paul had written to her mother.

And the student commented afterward on just how amazing it was to see Alice Paul as a young woman writing to her mother, writing about an arrest, sharing just these really relatable details. And you can see the paper. You can see how the letter—it was folded. You can see where the pen skipped.

So, I think for this student, it was partly seeing a name that she had seen in her history textbook—Alice Paul—and seeing that Alice Paul was a human, an individual, and having that personal, really intimate connection with a public historical figure by reading their personal papers.

Heather Min:
And Alice Paul was one of the early suffragettes fighting for the vote for women in the US, and she got arrested because she did things like chain herself to fences.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. This was actually an arrest in England. She was over in London, advocating for suffrage there before her activism here.

Heather Min:
So not only is the task of trying to decipher handwritten letters in cursive a decoder ring kind of detective endeavor, you’re saying that the holdings of the archive at Schlesinger Library is really just a wonderful opportunity for people to discover primary materials and try to figure out the story. Because you’re saying a lot of the stories have still yet to be told.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. I think that is definitely true. And I think for students, who are very used to being told about things, it can be very empowering to see the original evidence and ask themselves, what do I see here? What do I notice? What do I want to write about? What stories would I like to tell with these materials?

And I think sometimes you can feel—when you are reading a brilliant article or a book about a topic or a person, you can feel a little bit silenced or intimidated, right? Everything that there is to be said—surely, everything there is to be said about Alice Paul has already been said. But then, when you sit down with the primary sources, you read the letter, you start to notice things that maybe haven’t been said before or haven’t been—the connections that haven’t been made before.

Ivelisse Estrada:
I mean, each story is told through a particular lens, right? I mean, each individual biographer brings their own views to the writing of the work. So, it’s all kind of biased, in a way, already. Each generation brings their own kind of outlook to the topic, right? So—

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Absolutely.

Ivelisse Estrada:
But we were talking a lot about college students, and you mentioned that you do some work with K-through-12 students. How does working with them differ from some sophisticated AP kids in high school or the college learners?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. Well, one program that we work with that is really unique is the Emerging Leaders Program that Radcliffe offers. Those are high school students who are thinking about leadership through the lens of gender. So certainly, that is topically relevant to many of our collections, but they’re not in an AP History class necessarily.

So, they’re not necessarily learning about Angela Davis or about Pauli Murray or about Alice Paul. So, when they are encountering our collections, it is often without the kind of academic context that an AP US History high school class would have or a Harvard College class would have. And I think that has actually really highlighted just the resonance, the personal resonance that these collections can have.

One of the documents that we’ve read with ELP students is a letter that Angela Davis wrote to her parents as a graduate student, kind of charting the path that she saw for herself as an activist. And students often comment just that it’s relatable that they feel like they are having similar conversations with their parents about who they want to become and what they see as the role of social justice and activism in their life. And here’s a letter from a prominent figure who, as a young person, was having the same conversation.

So even though we’re not necessarily—they might not know all of the details of the historic context in which that letter was written, but they can still understand just the personal feeling that’s in it.

Ivelisse Estrada:
I feel like you get so much out of this work with them, that—I mean, you just seem so excited about the work that you do with these kids. So, I’m curious about whether you have any favorite moments. Other than the Angela Davis letter, do you have any favorite moments from working with students?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
It’s great to see younger students feel like they are able to handle these materials, look at them. Often, they will be a little intimidated at first. Like, this is old brittle paper sometimes.

Heather Min:
They have to wear white gloves?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
We don’t wear gloves except for handling photographs or metal objects. Harvard preservation best practice is clean, bare hands, because you lose a lot of dexterity if you’re wearing gloves. So only for photographs.

Heather Min:
So cool.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah.

Heather Min:
So cool.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
I will sometimes include photographs in a class and give them gloves we use. We use, like, nitrile gloves, just for that experience of putting on a glove. Because I do think that the handling is part of the excitement for students.

But to realize like, it is OK. You are allowed to touch this. It is the original document. And you can react to it. Sometimes they’ll just be like, oh, my god, I can’t believe what this letter says, or we’ll look at etiquette guides with a recent class where we’re looking at 19th-century etiquette guides and just, like, seeing in print, where do our standards for what we think femininity is, beauty is? Where does that come from? A lot of it comes from these etiquette guides. And to read them and say, oh my god, I cannot believe what this text is saying—when they get really excited like that, it can be a lot of fun.

I think often, younger students—really, they have no experience with archives before. And they may have experience with using primary sources, but it’ll be mediated through a screen, right? It’s, like, a digitized document that they’re looking at on their computer.

And so, to realize—I think they can sometimes realize, like, oh, these are real things. And I’m getting to play with them and learn from them. That can be a lot of fun.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Yeah.

Heather Min:
So, you just mentioned digitized documents. Let’s say I am—I don’t live in the local area. You know, I’m outside of the Boston-Cambridge region. And yet, I would love to discover what you have. How might I do that?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Most of our collections are not digitized. They’re print materials sitting in a vault here or at the Harvard depository. But the library is working very hard to digitize collections and make them more accessible to researchers. So, for researchers who aren’t able to visit the library in person, usually, they’ll write in to us.

Sometimes we can tell them, yeah, the material you need from the papers of Angela Davis is already digitized, and it’s linked in the finding aid, and we’ll show them how to get it. And Harvard Library does beautiful high-quality digitizations, so you can even get a sense of some of the things that I think can be so exciting for students like, what kind of paper was this written on? Or what color pen did the researcher use?

It’s very different from reading a transcript. They’re still seeing the actual documents in digital facsimile. It feels like an exact copy. Sometimes researchers will need materials that haven’t been digitized.

And then, we do have a small-scale scanning program that we offer in the library, so researchers can request up to five folders, and we’ll scan them—not at that super high-quality level that Harvard Library Imaging Services does, but well enough for researchers to have a reference copy, so that they can at least get some work started or maybe figure out, do they really need to plan a visit in person to the library. And we do actually have people who travel from all over the world to spend some time in the reading room.

Heather Min:
Fantastic. Let’s say—I’m not a teacher here at Harvard or a college student. But—and let’s say I’m not even in school, but I really—OK, here’s an example. I just saw the Barbie movie, and I just discovered that the Schlesinger Library has the papers of Ruth Handler.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah.

Heather Min:
The woman who created Barbie.

And I’m just dying to find out more about her. And I’m just a regular person out in the world. Is it possible for me to contact you and learn about how I can possibly read Ruth Handler’s letters?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yes. It absolutely is. We have a service that we call Ask a Librarian. And anyone—I think the easiest way to find it is if you just type in as a Google search, Schlesinger Library Ask a Librarian, you’ll find our web form. And a lot of people start there.

And it can be a question as simple as, I saw the Barbie movie, and I’d love to spend some time with the Ruth Handler papers. How can I do that? And it would be a multistep process. Researchers do have to do some work themselves in order to be prepared to come in and use a collection.

But we would be—we would help them do that. We would help them understand all the steps that they’d have to go through.

Heather Min:
That’s amazing.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Spoiler alert—I was so excited when Ruth Handler shows up in that movie.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
So was I.

[LAUGHTER]

Tamar Gonen Brown:
I got so much credit from my daughter for working at the library that has Ruth Handler’s papers.

Ivelisse Estrada:
All right. Fun question. Do you have a favorite item in the Schlesinger Library’s collections?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That is a very, very hard question.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Yeah.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
I think one of my favorite items is a photograph album that’s in the papers of Pauli Murray. Because it is there’s—Murray has captioned the album, so there’s a title, "The Life and Times of an American Called Pauli Murray." And just the idea of narrative and story that title implies, I think, is so fascinating.

And some of her captions are just so witty and funny and clever. There’s one beautiful photograph of Murray with her hair swept up and a comment that’s like, this is the last upswept hairdo. I’ll never do that again. So that’s an amazing artifact.

There is also a gym suit, a Radcliffe gym suit, from—I want to say 1880, 1890. It’s made of wool. It is sewn beautifully. These amazing bloomer pants, tiny little buttons, hooks to connect the jacket to the bottom. And that is just an amazing piece of fashion history that I love seeing every time it comes out.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Have you handled it?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. Yeah. It is hard to imagine working out in it.

[LAUGHS]

Tamar Gonen Brown:
It is like a real wool that you might make a suit or a blazer out of now.

Heather Min:
For people who are discovering the Schlesinger Library for the first time, and they didn’t even know that there are specialized libraries slash archives that focus on American women and American women’s history, please tell us what collections there are at the library and what I can even venture into discovering.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. It’s almost a hard question to answer, because there’s such a range of collections. And there are so many things you could investigate through the collections that even go beyond American women’s history. Our original collections documented the history of the women’s suffrage movement, but they have since grown. We have the Black Women’s Oral History Project and other collections documenting the lives of women of color, immigrant women.

We have collections documenting the life and work of conservative women. There is a real effort on the part of our curators and Library directors to think broadly about how do we document and collect materials for researchers to think about gender and society. So, there is a lot to discover. A good place for folks who are interested to start is on the website. Because you can get a sense of some of the range of interesting collections that the library has.

Heather Min:
How unique is it that the Schlesinger Library focuses on American women’s—American women?


Tamar Gonen Brown:
There are other special collections repositories that do focus on women’s history and gender. Schlesinger considers itself one of the—

[LAUGHS]

Ivelisse Estrada:
One of the premier.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
One of the premier repositories collecting that material. Certainly, if you think back to the establishment of the Schlesinger in 1943 and the fact that at the time, it was called the Women’s Archives, I’ll often ask students to think a little bit about what that means to them, the fact that they called it the Women’s Archives. What does that tell you about what was or wasn’t in other university archival collections at the time?

Heather Min:
What haven’t we asked that you think we—the world should know?

Tamar Gonen Brown:
I think I do really feel that every student, certainly at Harvard, but ideally, every student, should have the opportunity to have the kinds of engagement that you can get from working in the archives. It’s almost like for every student, there’s a collection out there somewhere that is going to get them thinking in new ways, that is going to help them write something that they wouldn’t have otherwise written.

So, we really do welcome all instructors to think about ways that they might be able to incorporate primary sources into their classrooms. Their students can come to us. During the pandemic, we learned a little bit how to teach remotely with primary sources, which I think, pre-COVID, felt like it had to be very much in person, handling the materials. But now, we’ve gotten more creative about teaching remotely. So, I hope that we will maybe discover some new folks to collaborate with.

Heather Min:
Because I’ve learned from listening to you that everybody can be a history detective and the discoverer and the teller and the interpreter from the past. And as Ivelisse said earlier, everybody who explores and tries to piece together those materials to make stories out of them brings to them their own unique life experiences. And it’s great to know that folks like you are there to help us along and help us in that journey.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Thanks, Heather. I love the way that you put that—that everybody can be a history detective.

Ivelisse Estrada:
It’s making me excited for the next time that I have to go in there. I’m thinking that it’s been a while since I’ve been in the reading room. [LAUGHS]

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, you should come by.

Heather Min:
And the reading room is beautiful.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Yeah.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yes.

Ivelisse Estrada:
So, the library, in addition to having these collections and reading room and all the places where you can interact with the archives, has an exhibition space.  

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, absolutely. The exhibit space, the gallery is a great way, I think, for anyone to come in and get to know the library for the first time. Because that’s a space where you can drop in and get a little bit of a taste of the collections. We don’t always exhibit original materials, because we have to think about the light levels in the gallery and whether they could potentially deteriorate if they’re on exhibit.

So sometimes it’s facsimiles. Most of what we show there comes from our collections, and the exhibits are a great way to see how curators can use material from collections to tell a story.

Heather Min:
And it’s just amazing to see original stuff that you can almost go nose to nose and look at. And it’s free and open to the public during library hours.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
That’s right. The gallery is open 9 to 5, slightly longer hours than the reading room, which is open from 10 to 4:45. And anybody can come in and browse the exhibit.

Heather Min:
And there are a couple of exhibitions that go up every year.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, so they’re constantly changing. And you can also go to our website. Our exhibits are described there. You can also link to previous exhibits. Learn a little bit about them and their digital—some digital exhibits, so it’s a great place to learn.

Heather Min:
And that’s the Harvard Radcliffe Institute website, radcliffe.harvard.edu. And there’s a whole section on the Schlesinger Library as well as a whole section on events and exhibitions.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yes.

Ivelisse Estrada:
There aren’t that many 3D items in the collections, from what I understand.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. We don’t have a ton of 3D items, just because if you think about the space and the different preservation concerns that are involved. So, textiles, objects—we have some, but not a huge amount. But yeah, Dorothy West’s writing desk is one of those items.

Heather Min:
I also know you have Julia Child’s spoon.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah, we have a spoon, a whisk, copper pots.

Heather Min:
Very exciting. And what I do know is, even if you don’t have a traveling exhibition of the writing desk of Dorothy West, we are able to see some of the key exhibition pieces that have been digitized on the exhibition web page for each of these.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Yeah. Oh, and there’s a great exhibit that was done for the Schlesinger’s 75th anniversary, 75 Stories, 75 Years, that highlights some of the most interesting objects and documents from our collection. So, I think that’s a great way for members of the public to get a sense of the kinds of things that we have.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Thank you so much, Tamar, for joining us today and giving us a behind-the-scenes look on what goes on in our library and the kind of work that you do with students, K through college. We really appreciate it.

Tamar Gonen Brown:
Thank you for having me and indulging me in talking about all of this.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Well, that’s a wrap. That’s the final episode of our first season of Radcliffe’s BornCurious.

Heather Min:
Thank you to each of you who joined us—our generous guests and our curious listeners.

Ivelisse Estrada:
We’ve covered a great deal of ground this first season and hope that this wide-ranging and interdisciplinary approach has opened your mind to new ideas and perspectives.

Heather Min:
BornCurious was produced by our very own Alan C. Grazioso.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Jeff Hayash was the man behind the microphone, and Michael Rossi captured video for a couple of episodes.

Heather Min:
Anna Soong and Markus Knoke provided editing and production support throughout the season.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Special thanks to Radcliffe’s Chief Communications Officer Jane Huber—

Heather Min:
Who shepherded us through the piloting process.

Ivelisse Estrada:
Thanks to Harvard Radcliffe Institute and especially our visionary Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin for supporting this effort. A big thank you to Jessica Viklund, Matt Brownell, Becky Wasserman—

Heather Min:
Claudia Rizzini, and other members of our fellowship, events, programs, and facilities teams, who provided much needed support.

Ivelisse Estrada:
It’s been a pleasure serving as your cohosts.

Heather Min:
Our website, where you can listen to all our episodes, is radcliffe.harvard.edu/borncurious.

Ivelisse Estrada:
We’re already well into production for our second season, and it’s shaping up beautifully. We’ll have discussions about recent Supreme Court decisions that affect access to higher education, addressing climate inequities, gendered views of autism, and more. We hope you’ll join us. In the meantime, if you like what you’ve heard, please rate us and subscribe on your preferred podcast platform.

Heather Min:
And if you have feedback, e-mail us at info@radcliffe.harvard.edu.

Ivelisse Estrada:
You can follow Harvard Radcliffe Institute on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and X.

Heather Min:
And as always, you can find BornCurious wherever you listen to podcasts.

Ivelisse Estrada:
BornCurious is a production of Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

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