In the past decade, seventy-five different Guest Authors have published over one hundred posts in The Collation. Roughly half of these contributors wrote posts about their experiences working with the Folger collections and researcher community through Institute-sponsored programming.
Many fellows took this opportunity to share an “in progress” look at their research—what they were learning, what was surprising, and what was still challenging—and to showcase the materials they examined while in residence. Many of these materials include the high-resolution images contained in Luna, which 2021-22 fellow Mira Kafantaris featured in her post on royal marriage and whiteness, a snapshot of her work in progress. Other participants in scholarly programs produced collaborative write-ups of their experiences working with each other, the Folger collections, and even actors from the Folger Theatre. The latter type of expansive collaboration is particularly evident in the four-part series emerging from Joe Roach’s Institute seminar “What Acting Is,” which involved twelve co-authors! Still other contributors were engaged through the recently concluded Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, which was part of the Folger Institute’s Mellon initiative in collaborative research. Regardless of their path into the collections, all Folger researchers are welcome to propose Collation posts (guest author guidelines are available).
We recently asked our contributing friends to reflect on the ways that writing posts for an intersection of public and scholarly audiences helped them think through their approach to a research topic. Three main benefits emerged from their responses.
Writing for The Collation improved the authors’ ability to communicate with scholars in adjacent fields
Dr. Sarah Werner created The Collation a decade ago to “present bite-sized glimpses of the materials found within [the Folger’s] walls, along with the questions and answers they prompt.” These glimpses are offered “in the spirit of collaborative conversation” of the type that Folger Institute programming has long fostered for scholars and their research communities.
Some scholars have used The Collation to flag their embarkation on new areas of research. Dan Shore, for instance, who used his long-term fellowship to produce his innovative monograph Cyberformalism, explained that “the post gave me a terrific starting place for talking (often over tea) and learning from other Folger researchers whose periods, methods, and investigative aims were very different from my own.” In this way, Shore used his post as a conversation starter to signal to colleagues at the Folger and beyond about the new vistas of his current research.
In a similar convivial vein, several Collation Guest Authors described how much fun they had in writing for a new genre and for new audiences. 2019-20 Artist-in-Residence Dawn Hoffman explained that she enjoyed the challenge of writing in a way that “could interest others on a pretty obscure topic. Most people either do not know that book furniture exists or if it does – so what?! The techniques of the metalwork and requirements for making accurate drawings had to be explained in a way that was approachable and engaging.” The tone of Collation writing invites collegial conversation, which Hoffman plans to continue by keeping a copy of her post “Hooked on Book Furniture” on display in her studio for visitors to read.
The Collation posts helped scholars develop their thinking for longer-form writing like articles and chapters
While academic currency still resides in university press monographs and peer-reviewed articles, many Collation contributors discovered that this relatively new genre had unexpected benefits for their scholarly writing. 2020-21 fellow Wan-Chuan Kao considered the format itself to be a boon: “[The Collation’s] tight format forces me to think and write judiciously; it advances my own thinking, as it will form a part of a chapter in my monograph.” The combination of form and subject can be challenging for scholars, who are more accustomed to extended exposition for insider audiences.
Laura Kolb explained that writing a blog post on an Elizabethan miscellany led her to realize that she could not assume the reader would fill in her conceptual blanks when she said, “I also paid more attention than usual to what each paragraph was doing, on its own: what point it was making, what reading it was doing, what detail of the manuscript the post was analyzing. In short: writing for the Collation really had me thinking about writing, period!” For those training future humanities scholars to express themselves convincingly for new audiences, switching modes offers a welcome reminder about our challenging craft.
The Collation posts advanced existing research projects through connections to wider communities
Another perhaps surprising outcome of writing for The Collation is the connections made as a result of a blog post’s various afterlives. 2018-19 Mellon Mowat fellow Simon Newman, for instance, initially viewed the blog post as an item to check off the fellowship task list. Since writing “’Run Away’: a life in 78 words,” Newman has found that “what has been most exciting has been the way that this blog entry has been used in teaching, and I have learned that short, focused pieces like this can be very effective in reaching students.” Newman is now extending this approach to feature a large number of short case studies on a new website project; he credits his experience in writing for The Collation as part of the inspiration for this framework.
Similarly, 2019-20 short-term fellow Bénédicte Miyamoto has seen continued engagement with her blog post well past its initial publication. She remembers that “when I included the piece as an email signature link last year, I received a few emails of compliments and further remarks that leads me to think that the shorter form…has engaged more readers than the normal signature link that advertises a book or chapter which readers do not click on for lack of time.” The “shareability” of The Collation posts lends itself to further afterlives on Folger social media channels such as @FolgerResearch and via outlets like the Institute’s bi-monthly Research Bulletin newsletter, ever expanding the audience for collections-based research. Guest Authors have reported that sharing posts on personal social media has also re-sparked connections, such as the endearing story of Laura Kolb’s now retired high school English teacher reaching out after her post was shared on Facebook.
We at the Institute understand that scholars are finding fewer opportunities to testify to the immense range of early modern human experience and creative practice, and to witness the countless figures who have been all but lost to us through the vicissitudes of time. We stand with them by supporting their attempts to present the questions with which they approach the Folger collections and the always-provisional answers that the research community helps them formulate. 2016-2017 Mellon Mowat fellow Megan Heffernan perhaps said it best when she declared that “scholarship is sustained by access to archives. This is a topic that feels increasingly critical in this time when we risk losing support for the careful work we do as humanists and historians. The institutions that help us begin to glimpse the past are essential for the continued vitality of our intellectual futures.”
We are proud to have encouraged so many of our associated scholars to share their work with the audience of The Collation.