2017 Mellon Scholars Workshop

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

2017 Mellon Scholars. Back left to right: Andrew Aldridge, Nafeece Beeks, and Amos Tarley. Front left to right: Ashley Council, Camara Brown, Lucero Smith, and Abi Bernard

2017 Mellon Scholars.
Back left to right: Andrew Aldridge, Nafeece Beeks, and Amos Tarley. Front left to right: Ashley Council, Camara Brown, Lucero Smith, and Abi Bernard

Scholarly lectures, archival research, professional development, and graduate school preparation—these are just some of the many constituent parts of the Mellon Scholars Workshop. Each year, a select group of undergraduate and master’s students are chosen to participate in an intensive, week-long workshop (June 12-16) held at the Library Company of Philadelphia with the support of LCP’s Program in African American History (PAAH) and the Mellon Foundation. My name is Dr. Michael Dickinson. I am an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and program coordinator for the Mellon Scholars Program. I work closely with program director, Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, to help transform students into scholars. The participants enter the program with interests in pursuing careers in African American history, whether in higher education, museums, or libraries. The purpose of the week is to help equip students with the knowledge and means to realize these aspirations.

This year, a group of five students were chosen for the Mellon Workshop. These participants were joined by two Mellon interns who will be in residence at LCP for an extended month-long stay. Together the group was exposed to life in academia as well as the steps necessary to enter the academy as scholars. Aston Gonzalez, a former Mellon Fellow and assistant professor of history at Salisbury University, provided students with insight into his work examining the ways African Americans used visual culture for activist efforts in the nineteenth century. Likewise, associate professor Jessica Millward exposed students to her methodology researching the life of a formerly enslaved woman in Maryland to reveal the gendered struggles of slavery and freedom. Along with the invaluable research talks provided by Dr. Millward and Dr. Gonzalez, the Mellon Scholars also attended the Juneteenth presentation of program director Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Collectively the presentations worked to engage students and reveal the rewarding and influential work of African American historians.

In addition to the research talks, the Mellon Scholars attended various sessions dedicated to demystifying the process of applying to master’s and PhD programs. Dr. Kimberly Saunders from the University of Maryland provided insight into crafting competitive graduate school applications while LCP Librarian Jim Green shared his extensive knowledge of the fellowship application process with participants. Finally, I led sessions on navigating graduate school and developing a personal statement. Over the course of the week the Mellon Scholars were, therefore, given tools to execute the often intimidating and taxing task of apply to and succeeding in graduate school.

The fast-paced week was also filled with numerous trips to historical institutions and sites across Philadelphia, including Temple University’s Blockson Collection, Mother Bethel, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. These visits worked to engage students outside of the classroom in order to expose participants to local resources and give a sense of African American history in the city. At the Library Company, students were tasked with using the LCP collections to research a figure and theme in African American history in order to gain familiarity with the archival research process. Andrew Aldridge, an undergraduate student at the College of Wooster, for instance, researched Octavius Catto and his role in black political activism. Students presented their findings at a formal colloquium on the final day of the program. This allowed the Mellon Scholars to share their newfound knowledge while mirroring the skills they observed in scholarly presentations provided throughout the week. It was a pleasure to attend this culmination of their tireless efforts, and I certainly look forward to their bright futures as scholars of African American history. Thank you to these students and to the LCP staff including event specialist Clare Lowry, curators Connie King and Linda August, visual specialist Concetta Barbera, librarian Jim Green, and LCP director Dr. Michael Barsanti for all of their assistance. The success of this week was the result of enthusiastic students and supportive colleagues. Thank you again for contributing to yet another splendid Mellon Scholars Workshop!

Michael Dickinson, 2017 Mellon Scholars Program Coordinator