Friday, July 25, 2014

Mellon Scholars Program: A Training Arena for Budding Historians

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.

My name is JaMarcus Underwood, and I am a second-year history graduate student at North Carolina Central University. I am currently completing my master’s thesis, in which I examine the development of black education in Scotland County, North Carolina, from 1900-1970. I have always had aspirations to become someone great, but was unsure of who I would eventually grow into. Thus far in my life, I must say I am absolutely blessed with the progress I have made, but there is always more work to be done. Over the last couple of years, life has been challenging with the loss of two of the people closest to me, both my father and grandfather, causing a huge adjustment period for me.

I applied to the Mellon Scholars Internship mainly because I saw that the opportunity directly correlated with what I eventually want to do, whether it is working at a research institution or becoming a professor. I also applied because I have a very strong interest in African American history. In the future, I plan to attend a doctoral program and earn a Ph.D. in history with a certification in Museum Studies or Public History. As a highly self-motivated person committed to achieving my goals, I believed that this internship would help me present the best candidate on paper to graduate school admissions committees. After getting my Ph.D., I then want to enter either the museum sector or academia.

Overall, the time spent at the Library Company these last four weeks has been like no other opportunity I have experienced thus far. What I have enjoyed the most is the cohort of budding scholars with whom I have been able to build relationships that will carry me forward for the remainder of my life. The various forums and speakers have been particularly rewarding because it is not too often that I am able to dialogue with people that are as passionate about history as I am.

“Colored Scholars Excluded from Schools,” woodcut from 
American Anti-Slavery Almanac, for 1839 (New York, 1838).
The independent research project was also a valuable experience because I was able to hone my research skills even more, while also delving into a topic of interest with a plethora of primary source material. The research project I chose examined early black education in Philadelphia, particularly focusing on individuals and organizations. The recurrent theme that I discuss throughout the resulting essay is self-improvement, a subject which black leaders returned to frequently. At the turn of the 19th century, reformers greatly stressed that the elevation of the race depended on the self-improvement of the individual. Black leaders believed that African Americans needed to educate themselves and their children in order to learn skills that would be useful to society.

JaMarcus presenting his research
findings at the capstone colloquium.
Being among the first cohort of scholars to participate in the Mellon Scholars Internship is something that I have taken much pride in while also working to set the bar high for the next group of scholars. After being immersed in the program for four weeks, I sense that it is a great training arena for people who are serious about history and becoming better at this craft. From my perspective the program is similar to a graduate-level course condensed into four weeks and allows budding historians like myself to fine-tune all of the skills needed to be successful.

JaMarcus Underwood
Mellon Scholars Intern, Summer 2014

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