Discussions on the art and craft of research

Page 2 of 5

Inspired by the Book: Over and Over Again

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

An interview with Emerson Norteman (they/them), currently a Junior at Connecticut College majoring in Anthropology with a concentration in Archaeology, double minor in Classics (Medieval track) and Art History, and following the Museum Studies pathway. Outside of academics, they can be found reading voraciously, writing poetry or fiction, playing violin, Irish Fiddle, or piano, acting, singing, drawing, or knitting! Their favorite genres to read are historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, poetry, and adventure.

What’s the last great book you read?

I’m currently reading I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, and it’s absolutely riveting. It’s a memoir of the author’s life told through seventeen brushes with death in non-chronological snippets that are wonderful on their own but together weave a vivid, heartfelt tapestry of an incredible life. Her vivid prose and honesty captivated me from page one, and I haven’t put it down since! Update: I read it all in a couple of hours and then immediately started it over again – it’s that good.

Was there an author who particularly inspired you?

Yes! Though I had many favorite authors growing up, only one inspired me to start writing my own books when I was a kid – Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always loved the genres of mystery and horror and his eloquent, macabre short stories inspired me to undertake my own tales of psychological horror. While I tend to write historical fiction and fantasy more often now, I hold a special place in my heart for Poe’s deeply human, existential side of mystery and psychology that lingers in my writing today. More recently, other writers have also inspired me, such as the works of Maggie Stiefvater and Samuel Beckett.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

I tend to read books over and over again out of comfort and familiarity, and I love finding details and themes that I had originally missed. These are the few books that traveled to my limited bookcase at Conn, the ones I would happily stay up all night reading if it weren’t for morning classes. Some of my favorites are The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a well-worn copy of The Four Tragedies by William Shakespeare, and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I will never tire of these favorites.

How do you organize your books?

My bookcase at home is organized first by color and then by size, with the largest books on the edges and the smallest ones in the center. Additionally, for some of my older books and the old copies of dictionaries that I’ve collected (yes, I’m that nerdy – but I work in the library, what did you expect?) are separated by Classic fiction and Classic nonfiction. There are also stacks separated by Graphic Novel and other categories. It’s all an organized chaos, I promise. Can one ever have too many bookcases?

Disappointed, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

This probably will read as controversial, especially since I’ve now established myself a lover of the Classics, but one book that I really tried to love from AP English Literature summer reading was Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Though I’ve liked some of Dickens’ other works, I found this book to be drawn out and prolonged, probably because Dickens was being paid for it in installments and at that time in his life he was swamped by debt. I felt like I should love some of the acclaimed classics, especially since Dickens is revered for portraying the lives of the lower classes accurately in Victorian literature, which wasn’t done at the time, but I personally found that absorbing so much of his normally dense, florid prose was headache-inducing. Don’t tell my fellow literature nerds though. I don’t remember the last book that I put down without finishing because I usually try to forge on ahead out of sheer stubbornness because I owe it to the author who spent so much time laboring over their brain child to not give it a chance.

Inspired by the Book: Mostly Nonfiction

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

An interview with Michael Dreimiller, who manages the Digital Scholarship & Curriculum Center. Mike has been at Connecticut College since 2000. Mike’s hobbies are playing vintage base ball and genealogical research. Mike’s doctor prescribed reading every night to manage a problem with his back. Mike has a Goodreads profile.

What books are on your night stand?

For Black History Month I’ll be reading “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story”, “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition”, and “The Negro Leagues are Major Leagues: Essays and Research for Overdue Recognition”. Up next after those is “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity” before I move to my pile of baseball-related books for baseball season.

What’s the last great book you read?

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro (1974).  I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From “The Elements of Eloquence”: Adjectives in English have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose Noun.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? Any which you avoid?

Early baseball research, historical nonfiction (Erik Larson), math, genealogy, and science (genetics, medicine, astronomy). I have to force myself to read at least one fiction book a year.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

In grade school I read every biography in the school library and my family’s World Book Encyclopedia (1970) set. In middle school I read Alistair MacLean and Agatha Christie. In high school I read science fiction – Isaaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” by Mehrsa Baradaran (2017)

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

I rarely read fiction now but I make an exception for Andy Weir’s books (“The Martian”, “Project Hail Mary”, “Artemis”). I enjoy his scientific realism.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where, and When Humankind Has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present” by Mark Forsyth. (I don’t drink alcohol.)

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I finally read “The Phantom Tollbooth” after the author, Norton Juster, passed away last year.

Inspired by the Book: Ferocious Honesty and Gorgeous Writing

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

An interview with Denis Ferhatović, Associate Professor of English at Connecticut College. He has published on translations of Beowulf into four languages, detachable penises in Exeter riddles and fabliaux, and Edwin Morgan’s queer sci-fi medievalism. His first book appeared in 2019.

What books are on your night stand?

Khadija Abdalla Bajaber, The House of Rust; Annemarie Schimell, Şark Kedisi (trans. Firuzan Gürbuz Gerhold); Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass; Jillian Hernandez, Aesthetics of Excess; Dubravka Ugrešić, Muzej bezuvjetne predaje; Marina Tsvetaeva, Milestones (trans. Robin Kemball); and René Goscinny/Sempé, El pequeño Nicolás (trans. Esther Benítez).

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Marie de France’s Lais. The Thousand and One Nights. Constantine Cavafy’s poetry.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Not recently. The summer when I was trying to finish my dissertation, I read several canonical, dead-white works for the first time: James Joyce’s Ulysses; Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (I liked it better than Ulysses); and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (a tremendous book worthy of all the praise).

What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a medievalist?

Mak Dizdar’s The Stone Sleeper.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? Any which do you avoid?

I love large polyphonic novels, especially the historical kind that wears its intricate research lightly. Lyrical poetry. Graphic novels. Generically hybrid texts like the poetic/prose works of Bernardine Evaristo. Mysteries. Anything queer. Speculative fiction with a sharp satirical edge like Aux Etats-Unis d’Afrique by Abdourahman Waberi. Campus novels (but it’s hard when you live in one!). Food writing. I am not drawn to a lot of nonfiction, and I avoid anything “written” by famous people like politicians, their spouses and hangers-on (more likely ghostwritten). Also, I think YA is not for me.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I liked most of the required reading in my Yugoslav elementary school days. I have to single out Gianni Rodari who is finally available in English (Telephone Tales, trans. Anthony Shugaar). He made my brain explode with his science-fiction adaptations of well-known fairytales. Two other important books were Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

Dead: Marie de France, Margery Kempe, and Emily Dickinson. Alive: Dubravka Ugrešić, Rumena Bužarovska, and Lana Bastašić.

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh? The last book you read that made you cry? The last book you read that made you furious?

I could not stop laughing while reading Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends. Sang Young Park’s Love in the Big City (trans. Anton Hur) had some very funny moments and it at times made me cry, too. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Jean Chen Ho’s Fiona and Jane made me furious for the same reasons: their ferocious honesty and gorgeous writing made me realize how much useless, empty discourse there is all around us, every day.

What do you plan to read next?

Oh, I am not sure quite yet. I need to finish Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust first (an East African Muslim ecofeminist fable that is part Miyazaki, part Melville, and part The Thousand and One Nights). Maybe Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence Is My Mother Tongue or Daphne Palasi Andreades’s Brown Girls.

Inspired by the Book: Sensitivity and Society

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

What follows is an interview with Aruna Gopalan, who works with the Cambridge Public Library as an associate for Youth Services. Aruna graduated from Connecticut College in 2021 with a degree in History. When not surrounded by books, Aruna says “I like to cook experimental recipes and explore the cities and communities around me.”

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh? The last book you read that made you cry? The last book you read that made you furious?

Ants Among Elephants by Sujata Gidla to all the questions above. I’m in awe of the sensitivity with which Gidla writes her family’s history and how it intertwines with the stories of larger societies and communities. It combined so many of the things I hold in high regard – history being reclaimed and told from the bottom-up, family/community centered stories and complicated, nuanced perspectives on how caste, class and gender play out in society. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

I would read James Baldwin describe how he brushed his teeth. Most humans don’t live the epic saga-like lives that a majority of fiction protagonists live through. We experience joys and sorrows in altogether quieter, more introspective ways. There is something about the way he writes the most mundane, ordinary things – experiences which are so often discounted in literature in favor of large, dramatic moments – which gives that mundanity the meaning it carries for me in my own life.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

I don’t quite know if it’s a favorite yet, but I greatly enjoyed The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. It set up all the elements to begin a good trilogy – a defined world, a well-rounded cast of characters and protagonists that one can actually care about. It also pushes me to wonder at the sudden emergence of so many queer fantasy novels with similar settings – a lesbian couple set across class boundaries and vague anti-monarchy sentiments. If I had a nickel for every time I saw that dynamic in a new release, I’d have three nickels. That’s not a lot, but it’s still strange. I’m hoping Suri is able to avoid the pitfalls of such a setting going forward (the “anti-monarchy” to “monarchy is fine with a woman on the throne” pipeline particularly bothers me), and I am personally keeping my eyes peeled for the sequel. 

Was there a book and author that particularly inspired you?

I hold Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed as a hallmark of what fiction can achieve. Everyone who is anyone to me has probably heard me talking about this book at least once, trying to peddle it to them in increasingly creative ways. Le Guin redefined what purpose fiction could have for me, and I was lucky to have found The Dispossessed in a time when I was largely growing bored and tired of reading the same old epic fantasies. I still remember a speech that Le Guin gave in 2014, where she championed science fiction as a place to reimagine the world – to create worlds that weren’t drowned in the inescapable reaches of capitalism. I didn’t give much stock to the kind of hope fiction could create until I read this book. 

Disappointed, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? 

As a person big into urban fantasy, I really expected to like Gaiman’s Neverwhere a lot more. I still read through it, and still found the world-building incredible, but 90% of the characters were frankly flat and didn’t inspire any level of care or engagement in me. Urban fantasy is an amazing way of getting to know cities, both past and present, but I enjoy Gaiman’s children’s books a lot more than his adult works for some reason. Maybe I’ve exhausted my capacity for profound verses.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I’m most drawn towards character-driven stories. Unless I have a good grasp on what makes the characters I’m reading about tick, I can’t connect to the story overall. While a well built character will suck me into the book, a well built world will keep me around too! Especially in fantasy based fiction, knowing the socio-political organization of the world helps me situate the plot within it much better. The potential for a well built world is what perhaps first attracted me to Harry Potter as a child, and the lack of that background structure is what started drawing me away towards the end of the series. 

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

This might be a bit of a flakey answer, but I can’t imagine a good book only striking one of those chords and not the other. Too many academic books that talk about the outrageous things in the most calm, dry, “isn’t this interesting?” kind of tone. Especially in cases when people are writing stories about injustices, whether real or fictional, I want to see what investment the author has in the issue. If the author truly cares about the subject of their writing, I believe that translates to the emotions exhibited in and induced by the text.

What do you plan to read next?

As a person big into horror movies and shows, I’ve been trying to consume more horror based books! I think the written word is perhaps the hardest medium for this genre to be expressed in, and that the lack of jumpscares or on-screen gore really forces authors to make horror about things altogether more terrifying: human emotions and relationships. After No Place for Monsters by Kory Meritt, a children’s graphic novel that I’ve recommended to young readers coming in looking for horror, I have a copy of Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Shaw waiting for me on the holdshelf.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I’ve been trying to be better about it, but I think most of my reading happens in sporadic bursts during free times. This often ends up cutting into the “revenge sleep procrastination” territory if I get really sucked into a book at night. I used to be much more flexible about where and how I read – as a child I infuriated my mother by reading while I ate or while I walked from place to place. I’ve evolved to like reading in quieter circumstances where I can really give the material I’m consuming 110% of my attention. 

COVID-19 or Not, Shain Library Was Always There

Guest commentary by Elizabeth Berry

Since my first year at Connecticut College, Shain Library has been a place to study, collaborate, research, and write, whether at a cubicle or in a collaboration room. During my sophomore year, I applied to be a scholar in the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA), one of the academic centers at Conn. After I was accepted into the prestigious program, I along with my peers was partnered with a research librarian who would help guide us through the next several years of our research journey, culminating in a Senior Integrative Project (SIP). I was paired with the wonderful Research and Instruction Librarian, Ashley Hanson, who met with me on a routine basis to alter my topic until I was passionate about my project, brainstorm key phrases for search engines, find niche articles for my SIP, and edit citations in my independent study. Hanson played a pivotal role in the final product: an independent study conducted under the Italian Studies department with Professor Paola Sica, which analyzed the role of feminism and writing in Elena Ferrante’s novel Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

Photo by Elizabeth Berry while studying abroad in Bologna, Italy.

After I completed my independent study during fall 2020, Research Support and Instruction Librarian Andrew Lopez, who had also helped me conduct research, suggested I try to publish a version of my SIP. This was something I had sort of considered, but Lopez solidified the idea and met with me to brainstorm potential publications to reach out to, as well as discuss a plan for how to go about sending out these query emails. In the beginning of the spring semester, I began sending out emails to various digital magazines and eventually Italics Magazine expressed interest in my article, “The Inclusive Feminism of Elena Ferrante,” which was published on April 23, 2021. This would not have been possible without the support of Hanson and Lopez who helped me become confident in my research and continued to push me outside of my comfort zone. Research has always been a daunting task for me throughout my academic career, but my time spent at the information desk with Hanson and Lopez has made me feel more comfortable when sitting down to write a long essay that requires secondary resources.

Citation Analysis of Honors Theses in Economics at Connecticut College

There are approximately 500 Honors Theses in the Digital Commons at Connecticut College. Since 2011, all new Honors Theses are deposited by requirement in this growing and popular collection of outstanding student work.

Some of the most popular theses are downloaded tens of thousands of times, such as Cecilia Brown’s 2013 thesis, entitled “Are We Becoming More Socially Awkward? An Analysis of the Relationship Between Technological Communication Use and Social Skills in College Students,” which has been downloaded more than 73,000 times.

Director of Special Collections, Ben Panciera, recently told me on the telephone, Honors Theses average about 2,000 downloads overall, with about 400 downloads per year, or roughly once a day. The top ten theses in Economics have all been downloaded more than 1,000 times.

Honors Thesis Readership Distribution for the Past 90 Days
(Jul. 1, 2020 – Sept. 29, 2020)

Honors Theses are not only popular on the internet, at Connecticut College they represent outstanding undergraduate achievement. In a recent article, Director of Institutional Research and Planning, John Nugent wrote, “The honors thesis is a signature capstone research opportunity that requires substantial work from students and their faculty advisors—it is a two-semester commitment to conceptualizing and bringing a project to fruition.”

So what is the library doing with these important papers other than disseminating their ideas, the names of their authors, advisors, and our hosting institution, Connecticut College? It is my belief that the collection of honors theses maintained in our Digital Commons is ripe for research.

It is my goal to analyze every citation in every undergraduate Honors Thesis at Connecticut College in the hopes of discovering and quantifying the kinds of sources our senior honors students are using in their research to inform collection development and library instruction. Some typical questions that are asked every year include the following:

  • How long are theses and how many citations do they contain?
  • What percentage of sources cited are available in the library’s collections?
  • What can be said in general about senior honors students’ citation behavior, and what opportunities does this behavior create for instruction and collaboration?

Because the work of coding each thesis is so laborious, Director of Research Support & Curricular Technology, Jessica McCullough, encouraged me to focus on individual departments. So I began to concentrate on the department of Economics, since it is one of the most common majors at the College, according to the Academic Fact Sheet 2019-20, and the largest department in my liaison areas (Anthropology, Economics, Government/International Relations, Philosophy). Ultimately, I hope to work through the theses in each of these departments.

Honors Theses in Economics

At the time of this writing, there are 34 Honors Theses in Economics in the Digital Commons. Combined, they amount to 2,771 pages and 1,903 references, which I analyze below.

On average, there are about 3 theses done per year in the department.

The average economics thesis is 81.5 pages in length. The shortest was 29 pages, and the longest was 153 pages.

The average economics thesis contains 55.97 references in its bibliography. The smallest number of references was 13, while the largest number was 168.

The length of the theses in pages appears to be correlated with the total number of references, so that the longer the thesis, the more references it contains, and vice versa.

The overall prevalence of sources by type shows us what kinds of sources students in Economics are citing. Not surprisingly, academic journals were the most popular kind of source cited. Academic journals were closely followed by websites. The website category is broad, however, and includes many academic documents and presentations, including research that was accessed on popular and freely available online databases, such as EconPapers, IDEAS, NBER, RePEc, and SSRN.

When we look at the average frequency of source types by year, it is pretty clear that academic journals and websites appear to follow a similar citation pattern, while the citation of books appears to follow a different trend downward over time.

When we look at the the average number of citations to academic journal articles compared to the average number of references per year, they appear to be correlated. The average economics thesis cites 22.59 academic journal articles, with 2 being the smallest number of articles cited, and 87 being the maximum.

Quite pleasantly for our librarians, the vast majority of journal articles cited were available through our library’s databases and journal subscriptions.

Websites followed academic journals closely in frequency of citations. The average economics honors thesis cited websites 20.24 times, with 0 websites representing the minimum, and 88 websites standing in for the maximum.

The overall pattern of websites relative to the average number of references again looks similar to academic journals.

Despite an apparent downward trend in book usage, which, given societal and technological transformations over the past 15 years, is not surprising, books were still an important source of information for a good number of honors theses in economics.

The average thesis cites books 8.74 times, with a minimum of 0, and a maximum of 38. Overall, books accounted for 15.61% of all sources cited. There were 4 theses that cite no books at all, and 6 theses that cite books for at least 30% of their sources.

The percentage of books accessed in-house, meaning through the library’s consortium with Trinity College and Wesleyan University (CTW), was a bit lower than the percentage of journal articles. This could be due to the frequency of citations to textbooks, which the library does not attempt to collect.

Some other kinds of sources that were tracked include US government publications and foreign language sources. Government publications were cited 79 times, representing about 4.15% of all sources. They were more important for some theses than others. Significantly, gov docs accounted for at least 15% of all references in at least 4 theses.

Foreign language, or non-English language sources were cited 53 times, accounting for 2.79% of all references. Significantly, foreign-language sources made up at least 15% of all references in 4 theses, and they accounted for 45% of all sources in 2 theses that relied heavily on them.

The Average Economics Honors Thesis

  • 81 pages in length
  • 55 references in its bibliography
  • 22 academic journal articles
  • 20 websites
  • 8 books
  • 2 gov docs
  • 1.5 foreign language sources

Citation Issues

The most common citation problems had to do with consistency, or inconsistency. They can be summarized with the following list:

  • Alphabetization was not always evident.
  • Authors’ names were treated inconsistently in terms of spelling, order (Last name, First name), and priority (the order in which they appear on the publication).
  • Book chapters and other sources cited in other sources posed problems. For example, multiple chapters from the same book were cited inconsistently within the same paper.
  • National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) papers were popular in the economics honors theses, though they were rarely cited consistently, whether within a single paper or across the collection.
  • Pagination was rarely offered consistently, so some sources would have pagination, others wouldn’t, and many contained an inconsistent mix, even within the category of journal articles and book chapters, where one would expect pagination to be relatively consistent.
  • URLs were listed inconsistently even when it was clear sources were accessed online.
  • Volume and Issue numbers for journal articles were cited inconsistently.
  • Year of publication was an attribute that jumped around quite a bit within the citations themselves (from the front of the citation to the back of it), and which was sometimes not given at all, even when it was available on the source cited.

Further Consideration

Honors theses at Connecticut College are popular documents in our Digital Commons, as they are downloaded often around the world. Because they bear the names of their authors, the faculty advisors who worked to bring them to life, and the name of Connecticut College, it is important to think twice about what we are sharing on the internet.

Each year, new honors students struggle with the lack of overarching standards and/or guidelines in place for the creation of new theses. Each department handles their honors theses differently, and sometimes the faculty within a department will handle them differently. This level of customization is certainly a strength in some regards, but in others it lets some students slip between the cracks and they may fail to get the structure or attention they seek.

If we compare the results of this citation analysis of economics honors theses at Connecticut College with the field at large and the substantial body of literature on citation analysis that already exists, what will we find? How do these results in Economics compare with the honors theses of other departments at Connecticut College, or our peer institutions, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and others?

How are our students taught to create citations? Are they graded? Are there guidelines in place on course syllabi and individual assignments? Why do citations seem to take longer than ever before for students to create? Can librarians help?

These are all questions I hope to explore further. If you are interested in discussing them with me, please get in touch!

Library Digitization Project Provides Access to a Rich Collection of Connecticut’s Environmental History


A period of Connecticut’s environmental history is preserved in a little-known state bulletin that Connecticut College Libraries are thrilled to announce has now been digitized in a user-friendly and publicly accessible format on Internet Archive. The completion of the Citizens’ Bulletin digitization project is a welcome addition to the Libraries’ already solid holdings in environmental studies

Like many periodical publications, Citizens’ Bulletin went through a number of name changes over the course of its 18 years in print — DEP Citizens’ Bulletin (10/1973 – 12/1975), Citizens’ Bulletin (1/1976 – 6/1988), and finally Connecticut Environment: The Citizens’ Bulletin of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (7/1988 – 6/1991). We have chosen to refer to the publication in general as Citizens’ Bulletin, since that name is present in each of the three variant tiles.  

Citizens’ Bulletin was a monthly publication (11 issues per year) of the newly formed Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (established in 1971) that began significantly in the heyday of environmentalism in 1973, three years after the first Earth Day. The Bulletin endured several brief print stoppages along the way, and continued publication until its end due to state budget cuts in 1991. The inaugural issue in October 1973 laid out the publication’s mission: “to give you the information you need to participate in decisions affecting the quality of our environment.”

Bulletin History

That Citizens’ Bulletin began publication in 1973 is significant, because that was the year of a major international oil crisis that fueled an explosion of creative environmental thinking in North America. That environmental thinking is well documented in library catalogs nationwide, and it remains relevant to this day. To see examples of these ideas, direct your web browser to an online library catalog of your choice, type in a search for the words solar or energy, for example, and limit to documents published between the years of say 1973 and 1980 (e.g. Shain Library or Connecticut State Library).

Following Rachel Carson’s 1962 publication of Silent Spring, and fresh on the heels of the 1968 circulation of the influential Earthrise photos of planet earth from outer space, the environmental movement, and in turn the pages of Citizens’ Bulletin, present us with an inspiring array of new ideas about how to live on a changing planet. From air pollution, cars, and land trusts, to recycling, solar energy, and wetlands protection, virtually all of the major environmental issues and policies of today can be traced back to the now decades-old pages of Citizens’ Bulletin.

The Connecticut College Connection

Connecticut College Arboretum on the cover of the June 1984 issue of Citizens' Bulletin.

Connecticut College Arboretum on the cover of the June 1984 issue of Citizens’ Bulletin.

Environmental conservation efforts right here at Connecticut College are documented in the pages of Citizens’ Bulletin. In addition to a cover story on The Connecticut [College] Arboretum in the June 1984 issue that makes the College’s presence in the Bulletin’s history explicit, wetlands protection is a topic addressed throughout the Bulletin’s history, from the first issue to the last, leaving the College’s role implicit throughout. The implicit role can better be understood by recognizing the environmental leadership of professor emeritus William Niering (1924-1999), who advocated for the passage of landmark legislation to protect Connecticut’s wetlands.

First, was the passage of the 1969 Tidal Wetlands Act (see Niering’s ’69 testimony here).  In celebrating the 50th anniversary of this Act, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) pays special tribute to Niering’s “significant contributions.” In 1972, just a year before the launch of Citizens’ Bulletin, Niering advocated for the passage of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act (IWWA; see Niering’s ‘72  testimony here), considered by DEEP to be one of the top 40 environmental accomplishments of the past 40 years. 

Wetlands on the cover of the February 1987 issue of Citizens' Bulletin.

Wetlands on the cover of the February 1987 issue of Citizens’ Bulletin.

In 1987, when the IWWA act was amended, just a few years before the Bulletin would cease publication, Niering testified again on behalf of wetlands protection (click here for Niering’s ‘87 testimony). Hence, the entire print-run of the Bulletin is virtually bookended between important wetlands legislation that was championed right here at Connecticut College. Over the years, there were cover stories on wetlands in the March 1976, December 1977, January 1978, May 1984, and the February 1987 issues, which all bear a trace of Niering’s impact. 

Summary of Digitization

Citizens’ Bulletin was discovered serendipitously in the stacks of the Charles E. Shain Library at Connecticut College around August 2017, when news organizations briefly turned their attention towards New London, Connecticut, to learn that Maggie Redfern of The Connecticut College Arboretum was defending her un-mowed lawn before a hearing in front of the city’s blight officer.  That’s when staff at Shain Library noticed the article “A Few Beautiful Reasons Not to Cut the Grass” by

"A Few Beautiful Reasons Not to Cut the Grass" featured in the September 1989 issue of Citizens' Bulletin.

“A Few Beautiful Reasons Not to Cut the Grass” featured in the September 1989 issue of Citizens’ Bulletin.

Carol Rettenmeyer of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History in the September 1989 issue of Citizens’ Bulletin, and realized there was more context to the no-mow topic than was immediately apparent in the news. This unexpected connection that was made in the library stacks set the initial spark for thinking about the value of making Citizens’ Bulletin available in a new way by digitizing the whole thing. 

It turns out Shain Library’s print holdings of Citizens’ Bulletin only go back to 1979. Having received permission from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to digitize and make publicly available the entire print run (Chris Collibee, personal communication, January 8, 2019) meant we would need to find the rest of the back issues in another library. Fortunately, according to WorldCat both the Connecticut State Library and UCONN’s Library hold collections of back issues, and the State Library was happy to let us scan from theirs. 

Connecticut College student Rachel Haines '20 scans an issue of Citizens' Bulletin in Shain Library.

Connecticut College student Rachel Haines ’20 scans an issue of Citizens’ Bulletin in Shain Library.

So began an effort to scan the State Library’s issues from 1973 to 1979, and Shain Library’s issues from 1979 to 1991. At the State Library a  Scannx Book ScanCenter 6167 flatbed scanner was used to scan all issues in readable (OCR) form. At Shain Library, the remaining issues were scanned using a KIC Bookeye 4 V2 scanner set to 400 DPI. Many thanks to Rachel Haines ’20 for handling the vast majority of scanning in Shain Library during the summer of 2019. And many thanks to Lori Looney, Technical Services and E-Resources Specialist, for handling the vast majority of uploading  to Internet Archive during the fall 2019 semester.

Directions for Future Research

The discovery of Citizens’ Bulletin in the stacks of Shain Library is evidence of a slogan I am occasionally heard repeating — there are hidden treasures in Shain Library (see p.9). The more creative and interpretive rigor we bring to bear on our library collections, naturally, the more we will be able to appreciate their tremendous riches. Given the way Citizens’ Bulletin brings together a diverse array of truly global environmental concerns and grounds them in issues and policies affecting Connecticut towns, makes this digitization project a research tool of potential interest to those concerned with the “global-local engagement” component of the College’s Connections curriculum.

The Citizens’ Bulletin collection on Internet Archive could be of research interest to budding scholars in ConnCourses, the Critical Interpretation and Analysis Mode of Inquiry courses, the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, the Museum Studies Certificate Program, the Social Justice and Sustainability Pathway, as well as to so many other people from diverse backgrounds. Anyone with an interest in the environment and its protection in Connecticut will find a wealth of historical context in the pages of Citizens’ Bulletin. Though, it does leave one to wonder why so little has changed since the days when this wonderful little Bulletin was still circulating. Alas, why not take this opportunity to start reading it again and we can pick up right where we left off?

Postcards: Pictures of Our Places and of Ourselves

It is easy to dismiss the value of ephemera like picture postcards. All of us have found old collections in the attics of our parents and grandparents. Antique stores often have large collections available for sale. EBay has become a terrific boon for the sellers of postcards, giving them access to a national, and sometimes international, market. We know that looking through them are fun, but do they have real research value? Or are these bits of visual flotsam and jetsam simply fodder for people who obsessively collect anything historical? Perhaps. But historians of human events, society, and architecture are turning to them more and more frequently as an interesting, sometimes important, primary source.

Picture postcards, either photographic or art cards, represent how someone has chosen to show and define a place, and further, how someone else has chosen to define their experience with that place. They show us interpretations of history, as well as history’s record.

Like any photograph, we are seeing an event or a place through the eyes and the mind of a photographer. But then we also frequently see the place through the mind of the person who purchased and sent the card. The picture postcard is really, in so many ways, a precursor to our modern habits of creating selfies and spreading them via social media platforms. Turn old postcards over, and frequently you will find a “I WAS HERE!” note.

So their value lies in the choices made: the choice to take or draw a picture or event, AND the choice to purchase and spread a reaction.

Some Examples of the use of Postcards in Research

In History:

Sometimes the historical value of a card is small; a point of time or interest in some local history. Here’s one from a major educational institution:


In the absence of other photographs, photographic postcards can be used in historic and architectural preservation studies. In this example, there were no written or photographic records in the Harvard University Archives of the original location of the now famous statue of John Harvard, currently situated in Harvard Yard. Only with postcards could the statue’s original location be established, some 500 feet away outside of the Yard.

Sometimes picture postcards can give us visual insight into a local event and its effects. Here’s one recording the effect of the 1938 hurricane on downtown Providence RI:


Or postcards may help bolster a narrative on a national or international event:

So, a picture of White Star’s Titanic:

…and a picture from the Carpathia, which was one of the rescue ships that arrived at the Titanic’s sinking. Here is a picture of some survivors on deck:


Those examples appear to be relatively noncontroversial. But collecting a wealth of cards on a particular era or event can actually help to look deeper into contemporary interpretation of an event. Postcards can be visual facts about how contemporary people and countries were interpreting major events.

So, from the Vietnam War era, we have multiple photographers’ lenses to look through:

A postcard of American and South Vietnamese allies in combat:


…and a picture of North Vietnamese troups:

…and finally, unrest at home in 1965 outside the United Nations:


Going one step further in the presentation of contemporary history are the art or comic postcards that people create. Sometimes these were sold as political statements, but they were often simple contemporary interpretation of events or people, reflecting attitudes and biases.

From World War I:

And from World War II:

A good published example of how both photographic and drawn postcards can reflect an entire national identity can be found in Tim Semmerling’s book Israeli and Palestinian Postcards: Presentations of National Self.

By searching OneSearch using the subject heading Postcards, any number of books on subjects such as postcards representing colonial attitudes, postcards as political propaganda, etc. can be found.

Researching Social Attitudes

Equally interesting, but often very uncomfortable, are art postcards that inadvertently clearly illustrate social attitudes, perhaps unattractive attitudes. Good examples of this are the depiction of women, or of the Japanese in political postcards of WWII, or the depiction of African Americans (I should note of the picture below, I selected the LEAST offensive card I could find):

“Yass uh, of course I’se happy down south”

And modern America? We became so enraptured with our modern selves starting in the 1940s. Did you know, for instance, that there was a huge market for postcards of highways and highway rest stops starting around World War 2 and into the 1970s?! “We are modern! We are mobile!”

Sunrise Over One of Florida’s Modern Highways

Finding Postcards

The open web, as well as sale sites such as EBay, are excellent places to find examples. Be aware, however, that there may be copyright restrictions on an image’s use. For large national and international collections go to The Digital Library of America. Search the term “postcards”, and you will find more than you could ever want!

Some Local Resources

At Connecticut College, our Linda Lear Special Collections and Archives does not have an enormous collection of postcards, but it does have several hundred depicting Connecticut College, New London, and other Southeastern Connecticut Locations. There is also an online exhibit of some of the New London cards entitled New London Postcards Online:


A postcard of New London’s oldest cemetery.

If you are doing local history in any location, do not forget to contact local historical societies, which are usually incredible collections of…well, everything! For instance, the New London County Historical Society also has a collection of approximately 1000 postcards. Their collection features images of both New London, and New London Country.

Library Helps Expand Use of GIS to the Social Sciences

While use of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Lab at Connecticut College is focused primarily in the field of Environmental Studies, it could also be useful to students and researchers across the social sciences. So I was excited recently when working with Joseline Urbina ’19 on her Honors Thesis in the Government department when it became clear that she could use GIS for her project. What follows is Joseline’s own brief summary of her project and how GIS was leveraged to further her research. Many thanks to Joseline for agreeing to share this preview of her work in progress. And many thanks to Professor Beverly Chomiak for supporting this kind of research.

Joseline Urbina ’19

Government Major

For my honors thesis in the Government Department, I am conducting an exploratory case study of Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 Campaign for the Democratic Primary nomination in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District. Throughout my research, I will examine the strategies used during the election, the campaign, and the transition period to study how Pressley won against a ten-term incumbent to become Massachusetts’ first African American Congresswoman, and what does the win suggest for the future of politics.

One portion of my thesis required me to study the geographical boundaries of the district in which Pressley won. However, after searching online (e.g. Google Image search), I was unable to find a map of the Precincts and Wards that are in the district. So I enlisted the support of our research librarians. During one of my research consultations with the librarians, I learned that it would be possible to create the map I was looking for using the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab in the Olin Science Center on campus.

So with the help of Andrew Lopez, I contacted all of the towns in the 7th Congressional district in order to collect the GIS shapefiles we’d need to make the map. Once the shapefiles were collected, we contacted Professor Beverley Chomiak, Senior Lecturer in Geology and Environmental Sciences, who also runs the GIS lab, to ask for her assistance in putting a map together.

This map shows all precincts in the 7th Congressional District color coded with percentages of votes received by each candidate in the September 4, 2018 Democratic primary.

This map shows all precincts in the 7th Congressional District color coded with percentages of votes received by each candidate in the September 4, 2018 Democratic primary.

Professor Chomiak worked around the clock to assemble the map from the less-than-ideal files we had collected. Once the Wards and Precincts were assembled for the 7th District, the voting results were layered into the map and color-coded to exhibit where each candidate received the most votes during the Primary Election.

These maps have enabled me to visually analyze the election results in a new way, and they have also highlighted the significance of gerrymandering in the district, which expanded my research. As I continue with my thesis, I plan to continue to use GIS where possible, as it proved extremely helpful in increasing my data and analysis.


Book Exhibit in Shain Library Captures the Attention of Human Rights Advocate

There is a small rotating exhibit of books on display in Shain Library related to a current event or theme on campus. One recent exhibit on Guns in America caught the attention of the international human rights and peace advocate, Binalakshmi “Bina” Nepram, who is a visiting scholar in residence at Connecticut College.

Nepram — who was recently awarded the prestigious Anna Politkovskaya Award, established in 2006 to remember the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed for her reporting on the Russian conflict in Chechnya — has been researching arms proliferation around the India-Burma border for the past 15 years. Her work is all over the internet and a quick scan of Google Scholar indicates that she’s been publishing for at least that long. So I was surprised at her 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence (October 26, 2018) to learn that the guns exhibit in Shain Library actually caught her attention.

Local New London peace advocate and author Frida Berrigan joined Bina Nepram in the Walter Commons for a discussion on gun violence (26 Oct. 2018).

Local New London peace advocate and author Frida Berrigan joined Bina Nepram in the Walter Commons for a discussion on gun violence (October 26, 2018).

Nepram told me that she “loved those books,” that she “devoured them,” and that they were “stunning!” To understand why, let’s consider where she is coming from.

I first saw Bina Nepram speak on June 26, 2018, at the Eastern Connecticut One Book, One Region kickoff event for this year’s selection, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. She took a very simple approach to introducing the book by placing it in the real world context of the global migration crisis currently underway. Within the first few minutes of her talk, I estimate that about half of the approximately 100 people in attendance burst into tears, myself included. Of the talk, Bina later told me that she was very nervous, because she had “never commented on another author’s work in that way before.”

Because Nepram is an established international scholar, who has given a Ted Talk no less, I think she means she was nervous because she was not used to commenting on novels. But she handled Exit West with an incredible attention to detail as she read the real world trauma of migrants into select passages from the book. “I love books,” she says. And more importantly for the sake of this blog, she considers libraries the living rooms of America; a place where one can be oneself and feel safe and secure. She knows, because when she first arrived in the US for reasons of personal safety, she was able to get her bearings at the New York Public Library.

Faculty, staff, and students at the 2nd dialogue on gun violence.

Faculty, staff, and students at the 2nd dialogue on gun violence.

Her transition to mostly-rural southeastern Connecticut at the beginning of the year was more complicated. Let’s just say American hospitality wasn’t the welcome party she was expecting. In India, she says everyone would invite you over for tea or whatever. Even the King, she says, sometimes disguises himself in order to test the hospitality of his subjects. During her first few months in Connecticut, she says it felt like no one said anything to her. She was isolated and alone, she felt imprisoned, and she wondered what she was doing here.

Then she was in Shain Library, her big American living room on campus, and she noticed the display of books on guns in America, and she had a Eureka moment. Look at all of these books organized according to a theme, she thought! Then she checked the majority of them out and began reading about the history of guns and violence in the United States. At her 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence, she mentioned that she researches guns and violence in part because they are very scary to her and they represent a real threat to her and her family.  Importantly, she reads about guns in order to understand them and overcome her fear.

Binalakshmi Nepram checking out the New Books display in Shain Library.

Binalakshmi Nepram checking out the New Books display in Shain Library. The current exhibit on the AIDS Quilt is visible in the background.

Her discovery of books about guns in Shain Library happened in the summer of 2018, a time riddled with multiple mass shootings in the United States. To name only several, there was the Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, Florida (Feb. 14), the Santa Fe High School shooting in New Mexico (May 18), and the Thousand Oaks, California shooting (Nov. 7). The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Oct. 27) happened within 24 hours of the 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence that Bina led with the support of Frida Berrigan.

Bina and I met recently to talk about her experiences. She is a wonderful and powerful speaker, but she is also really enthusiastic and incredibly humble. She told me the books about guns exhibit in Shain library helped her understand why she is here in Connecticut. “Why is America the world’s leading international arms dealer,” she asked me rhetorically. Gun making started right here in Norwich, Connecticut, she said, as an artisanal craft industry to fight against the British. Nepram began speaking about the life of Sarah Winchester, heiress of The Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which was one of the biggest gun makers in the world. A lot of their rifles were used in the US Civil War, and they were established in nearby New Haven.

“Books!” Bina says. “They are like strange animals.” Whoever created that exhibit, she told me, must really understand these issues. Nepram really liked the variety of sub-topics, with books on women and guns, for example. But one thing that really stood out to her was the inclusion of children’s books. She says there are always children’s books in the exhibits and she loves that. Her daughter visited recently, and of course they read children’s books together in Shain Library.



« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2024 ResearchScapes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑