Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Uncommon Sense—the blog

Meet the 2018 Scholars’ Workshop

· July 25th, 2018 · No Comments

The 2018 Scholars’ Workshop convened at the Omohundro Institute on July 2.

Each summer up to eight untenured scholars gather for two weeks to work both as a group and individually with OI editors and staff on either a manuscript chapter or a journal article in progress. The weeks include seminar-style meetings on conceptual development, manuscript editing, and source verification as well as time for writing, revising, and consulting. While this year’s formal workshop sessions ended July 13, 2018, most of the scholars are staying in Williamsburg through the end of the month to continue their work at the Omohundro Institute.

The Scholars’ Workshop is part of the Lapidus Initiative.

We asked the Scholars for their reactions to the workshop after their first week in residence.

Sara Damiano (Texas State University)

My book project examines women’s engagement with credit and debt in eighteenth-century Boston and Newport. I came to the Scholars’ Workshop to develop my book’s first chapter, which interrogates the broad parameters and social stakes of women’s involvement in borrowing and lending. This chapter, like first chapters in many other books, needs to accomplish several things simultaneously: capture readers’ interest, advance a strong argument, and provide necessary context for the remainder of the book. Feedback from the workshop was very valuable for figuring out ways to balance and better achieve these three goals. In particular, participants’ questions and comments helped me clarify my chapter’s argument and think through which material belongs in my book’s introduction and which belongs in its first chapter.

For me, one of the most useful features of the workshop has been its two-week format, with participants presenting their writing during the first week and their revision plans during the second week. As authors, we often receive excellent feedback on our writing in workshop settings, but it is rare that we return to the same group as we process and clarify its suggestions. For me, the Scholars’ Workshop has underscored the importance of engaging in ongoing dialogue with readers of our works-in-progress. It has encouraged me to ask questions such as, “Did I fully hear and understand what you were saying?” and “Do my revisions seem likely to address the issues that you were raising, and what additional problems and questions should I keep in mind as I revise?” I am grateful to the OI for providing a structured setting for this kind of conversation, and this experience will shape how I approach revisions in the future.

Steffi Dippold (Kansas State University)

I came with a book chapter to the OI and discovered the workshop to be one of the most intense, absorbing, overwhelming, rigorous, collegial, and pleasurable research experiences I have ever had. I love working in and as a group because it multiplies the range of perspectives on argumentative and stylistic problems. I find it so important to understand how others actually experience my texts, where they find my arguments work and where I bore them to death…. As somebody working on a book manuscript, I also thoroughly enjoy learning and discussing how to build arguments that construct stable backbones for writing that exceeds beyond the usual article length. And while we might work on different topics, I was struck by how comparable key challenges of academic writing haunt each and every one of us equally. We all struggle with how to weave together macro- and micro-arguments. And we all try to tackle archival silences in productive and responsible way, for examples. Seeing how other scholars respond to these demands and dilemmas pushes me to question my sources in new ways and provides intriguing models for my own thinking and writing. Most importantly, after semester-long research and writing usually done in isolation, airing out texts and ideas in a group of early Americanists is both enormously liberating and a lot of fun. Here dialogues and conversations emerge that I hope will continue not only throughout the workshop but for years to come.

Julie Fisher (George Washington University and the Yale Indian Papers Project)

I came to the workshop to develop a journal article that I have been writing, on and off, for years. Having worked on it for so long, I had begun to miss the proverbial forest for the trees. I can now clearly see how this smaller piece relates to central themes in my scholarship, or rather, maybe now I can better articulate those connections.

In terms of the workshop process, I have already learned a number of strategies that I would implement in any writing group moving forward. The first has been the value of someone else taking notes for you while you listen to the first round of feedback. I had always considered this a kind gesture, a way to allow the discussant to focus on answering. I was surprised to discover this week that having someone else take notes allowed me to hear feedback that had not registered with me during the discussion. It’s not that I had not been listening, it was just that some feedback I could not hear, or it did not resonate at that particular moment. The notes allowed me to revisit those comments days later and appreciate them in a new way.

John Garcia (California State University Northridge)

I’m revising the first chapter of a book I’m writing about the early American book trade. The chapter focuses on London booksellers visiting colonial New England in the late-seventeenth century as they helped usher colonial readers into the transatlantic print marketplace. In the workshop, I’ve learned a lot about the kinds of questions that editors and potential readers ask when making sense out of my writing. Getting direct feedback on my writing has reminded me of how much our scholarship depends upon collaboration and input from colleagues. My chapter has completely transformed into something much better after consulting with my fellow presenters and the OI staff.

One strength of the OI Scholars’ Workshop is its interdisciplinarity—having historians and literary scholars working in a variety of subspecialties really helps you see the range of perspectives that readers bring with them. Things that I thought were essential in my writing turned out to be peripheral and vice versa. Sharing your work with really smart people can be daunting. Having a generous and supportive group like the OI workshop makes a huge difference.

Ebony Jones (North Carolina State University)

I am workshopping a chapter of my manuscript from which I also hoped to gain insight and suggestions on aspects I can cultivate into an article. Suggestions from both the roundtable during week one and week two’s feedback session really helped me zero in on an aspect of the chapter that I can expand into an article in ways that won’t gesture towards my larger project without giving the away the book’s central argument. I knew that we would receive some information about the publishing process, but have been pleasantly surprised by how much information we have received and will continue to receive in the coming days. As a junior faculty member still trying to find my footing in my institution and academia as whole, it is extremely helpful to receive tips on how to navigate the publication process.

Allison Madar (University of Oregon)

I came to develop a chapter of my book manuscript. The chapter I circulated was a chapter on runaway servants and is part of my larger project on servitude, slavery, and the law. The workshop has been extremely helpful and has provided me the time to think about not only the chapter under consideration but also the entire project. One of the key insights thus far has been a new chapter organization for my book. With the helpful comments and suggestions I received during my roundtable, I was better able to conceive of my project and the way my arguments unfold. The workshop process, I believe, is invaluable. It provides writers with an opportunity to receive much needed feedback on their work and to engage with the work of other scholars in a constructive and supportive environment. It’s also helpful to be among a group of scholars who are deeply entrenched in the same process and working toward the same goals.

Julia Mansfield (Yale University)

I came to the workshop to work on the final section of my book manuscript. One insight on my writing that I have gained from the workshop is that I need to funnel a reader toward my argument more slowly. This insight is valuable, but I have gained a different kind of insight by participating in this specific writing workshop, because it is very well designed.

The Scholars’ Workshop is unique (in my experience) in offering rigorous critique coupled with support and comradery. From the very start, the design of the workshop encourages a sense of community. Discussing papers in back-to-back sessions helps to establish bonds of trust within the group, which allows conversations to be more probing and productive. The second piece of the workshop—the feedback sessions—is vital to the whole endeavor. It allows us to see the impact of our discussions on colleague’s work and watch the trajectory of their projects evolving. I found this step in the process very satisfying. I look forward to reading all the books and articles that emerge from this workshop.

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