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Senior Researches One-of-a-Kind Historical Treasures

For Worcester State University [1] dual urban studies [2] and history [3] major Kaitlyn Benoit, participating in the American Antiquarian Society’s selective American Studies Seminar this fall was a dream come true.

“This experience has been wonderful,” says Benoit. “The American Studies Seminar has provided me a unique opportunity to embark on a self-guided, independent research project on a topic of my own choosing. I was able to access, interpret, and analyze primary source materials in a very hands-on way.”

Founded in 1812 by the Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the American Antiquarian Society [4]—located 7 minutes from the Worcester State University campus, at the corner of Park Avenue and Salisbury Street—houses the largest and most accessible collection of printed materials from 1640 through 1876 in what is now the United States, the West Indies, and parts of Canada. It includes books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, sheet music, and graphic arts materials.

The AAS hosts the American Studies Seminar each fall for students from each member of the Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts [5], including Worcester State University. Students who are accepted from the competitive application pool participate in a weekly seminar and complete a research paper based on primary sources in the American Antiquarian Society collections.

“The course I took is a material and visual culture seminar with six other students from Assumption College, Clark University, Holy Cross, and WPI,” says Benoit. “During the first few weeks, we chose our research topics in line with the AAS’s collections and mission statement.”

Benoit researched childhood and the prevalence of death in the early American period. She analyzed 18th century miniature portraits of children that were painted posthumously and questioned whether these images can be considered forms of pre-photography artistic or symbolic reminders of mortality.

“The course and research project allowed me to incorporate my historical interests in media history and the concept of childhood into this study,” says Benoit.

The American Studies Seminar gives students an opportunity to learn from a renowned visiting scholar, get a taste of what graduate study might be like, hone research and writing skills, and meet students from area colleges.

“The American Studies Seminar has broadened my historical knowledge and thinking,” Benoit says. “It has both challenged me and granted me exposure to a level of intellectual and collegiate conversation that is often hard to find in a larger classroom setting.”

In the spring, Benoit will follow up her experience as an American Studies Seminar scholar with a semester as an intern with The Washington Center [6] in Washington, D.C. She has been accepted into TWC’s Politics and Public Policy Program. Forty-four Worcester State students have interned at TWC since 2004.

After graduation from Worcester State in May, she plans to continue her studies in a history or American studies graduate program with the intention of one day teaching, writing, and researching at the professional level.