The Newberry Library greets its guests with a sweeping marble staircase and grand chandeliers dating from its 1893 opening. Located on Chicago’s Near North Side, the research library is home to an astonishing 1.5 million manuscripts. Roosevelt University students explored its vast collection in the Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar, an honors course reserved for Chicago college students.
Five Lakers studied how Chicago became a hub of artistic innovation because of, not in spite of, the laborers who fought to change what it meant to work, live and create.
“It’s a unique experience to work at a world-class research library whose collections span six centuries, under the direction of leading faculty scholars and the Newberry’s expert staff,” said Roosevelt professor Priscilla Archibald, one of the instructors in the program.
To preserve the condition of the historical artifacts, the Newberry librarians keep the works in storage. The Roosevelt students send in their requests online, and the librarians pulled them for careful viewing in a temperature-controlled room. The delicate books are placed on holders to protect their spines from damage.
“It's kind of intimidating because of how old and huge it is,” said Rachel Wallis, a Bachelor of Musical Arts student. “But it feels wonderful to be in a space where so many amazing archives are held and so much wonderful work has been done over the years.”
research experience as undergrads
Only 20 students total from Roosevelt, DePaul University, Loyola University and University of Illinois at Chicago can take the class in a semester. The students learn from the Newberry archivists, write ambitious research papers and present their work.
“This class has already taught me so much about engaging with things of the past,” said Alyssa Stilley. “There are many different aspects as to why history is the way it is and being able to look into that is a skill I will take with me throughout school and work.”
The course is a chance to get graduate-level research experience while finishing their bachelor’s. The students said that even though they were intimidated at first by the size of the library and amount of work, they end up finding their voices as academics.
Wallis focused her project on under-celebrated mezzo-soprano singer Mina Hager. Although no one has written a biography of Mina Hager — yet — Wallis pieced her story together through the biographies of the composers she worked with and Hager’s own comprehensive letters.
“I think there's a misconception that you have to completely separate yourself when you're writing a 'formal' paper,” said Wallis. “When you research topics about which you care deeply and stay connected to your own scholarly voice, your work shines and you will be able to leave your own unique mark on the field!”
For Sophia Gallo’s project on housing, she perused original letters from reformer Jane Addams.
“When you have a primary source, you don't necessarily have the analysis made by experts to help guide you,” she said. “It was important for me to learn to trust myself and that I knew where I was going and what I was talking about.”
Advice from honors students, for honors students
- Don't be intimidated. “I know this class can seem intense, and the Honors Program in general,” Stilley said. “But it is all really worth it and incredibly rewarding!”
- Prepare for a lot of work. “If I had scheduled a heavy course load on top of this, I wouldn't have been able to put as much into the course,” said Gallo. “You want to make sure this is a class you can prioritize!”
- Reach out to your classmates. “If you're feeling inadequate or behind or confused, you can guarantee that your classmates are too, even if they seem intimidatingly intelligent,” added Gallo. “I dealt with feelings of imposter syndrome when I was in class listening to these incredible students share their thoughts, so when I connected with them on a more casual and friendly level it helped so much.”
- If you're thinking about applying, apply! “Everyone feels like they're in over their heads at some point during school, and even our professors feel like they're in over their heads sometimes, too,” Wallis said. “I was extremely nervous about the class going in, but if you do the reading and approach the experience with enthusiasm, nothing can go wrong!”
Roosevelt Honors Program
The Honors Program at Roosevelt University provides immersive academic opportunities for students seeking an enriched undergraduate experience, featuring close faculty mentorship, multi-disciplinary approaches to inquiry and creativity, personalized curriculum, civic engagement, and experiential learning. Students who complete the Honors Program gain tangible distinction and preparation for graduate school, professional success, and life as socially conscious leaders.