SCRC collaborates with Dr. John Morillo's ENG 582 Animal Studies class

Small song bird perched on a branch, from the cover of "Robbing the Birds," a pamphlet published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (date unknown).

Small song bird perched on a branch, from the cover of "Robbing the Birds," a pamphlet published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (date unknown).

Welcome back, Wolfpack! It’s been a long, quiet summer around here without you, and we’re glad you’re back. Last fall, Professor John Morillo’s ENG 582 Animal Studies class visited the SCRC to use some of our animal rights and animal welfare materials. In this class, students took a critical approach to examining animals in literature and other texts, exploring British literature from around 1660 into the early 20th century. After the class was over, we sat down with Katelyn Vause and Samantha Duke, graduate students in the English department, to talk to them about their experience using Special Collections materials, including being the first researchers to use the materials digitized through the Animal Turn project.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you studying, and where are you in the program?

KV: I hail from Richlands, NC, which is down by the beach. I went to undergrad at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC, a small, private, liberal arts college. Very different from State, but I happen to love both. I’m an MA in Literature student. I don’t have a particular focus because I have lots of different things that I’m interested in, including archival research.

SD: I’m a second-year MA Literature student, so MA in English, focus in literature. I’m working on my capstone currently. My capstone is a unit plan, attempting to bridge the gap between Common Core standards used in teaching English at the high school level, particularly the standards for 11th and 12th grade, and the [Council of Writing Program Administrators'] outcome statements that guide first-year composition across the university system. I am attempting to create a writing unit that covers both standards and bridges some of the differences between vocabulary and specific focuses on writing skills. Then I’m grounding it in the texts of Langston Hughes.

Editors’ note: Since this interview was conducted last spring, we expect that Samantha has graduated, as she said her plan was to graduate in May 2019. Samantha, if you have graduated, we wish you the best of luck and happy trails as you move on to your next chapter!

I think [archival research] is really illuminating... We see in history books that this was a thing that happened. But then to actually see, here’s people talking about it and people reacting to it in the time period, I think, is so essential to understanding the historical context of what we’re studying.

Tell us about the class and what you did for your research.

SD: The class focus was animal studies, particularly looking at how we treat animals in literature and then, of course, all of the necessary historical context between that. So also looking at [Charles] Darwin and [William] Hogarth. Looking at how we treat animals in literature and how that parallels the way we were treating animals in real life, in actual society. And looking at how that shifted, specifically in England from the 18th to the 20th century. I ended up working with these Junior Division talks that were produced by the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals] that I would never have even thought had existed. So just recognizing the breadth of material that has been saved from previous centuries that we can really ground our research of literature in actual documents, in things that were passed from hand to hand and preserved. So I think [archival research] is really illuminating in that sense... We see in history books that this was a thing that happened. But then to actually see, here’s people talking about it and people reacting to it in the time period, I think, is so essential to understanding the historical context of what we’re studying.

KV: Whenever we came to the library for our archival visit, I had never done archival or special collections work before, so that was really exciting. I had started out by looking online at the listings of what was in the [Animal Rights and Animal Welfare Pamphlets] collection, and I kept seeing birds pop up over and over again… I discovered that there was a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and so then I began to be really interested in what they had to say. As I was flipping through the materials, I realized that the way they presented was as though they were British citizens, so that was my initial idea, ‘the bird as a British citizen.’ [Then] most of these materials are taking place between 1904 and 1945. What’s going between those periods? Obviously World War I and World War II. So then I retooled my idea to ‘the bird as a nation builder and national symbol of Britain.’

This pamphlet, titled "Our Ally the Bird," served as one of the sources that Vause used for her paper. Access the digital version here.

Talk about your experience working with Special Collections for the first time. What resources did you use? What challenges did you encounter?

KV: I realized that I was touching documents from 100 years ago, and just the fact that they had survived and I was allowed to touch them was amazing. What was challenging was that initially having to physically go through everything was very difficult. Then once the digital collection was up that made things a lot simpler. I think that archival research is kind of interesting in that a lot of the stuff has been essentially lost to time, and whenever it gets resurfaced you learn so much. I wouldn’t have thought that they would connect birds to the war effort, but they did, and they were successful.

SD: I started by skimming all of the online descriptions of the archives that were available. Professor Morillo sent that to us about a week before we were supposed to come in. I made a list of twenty different things that sounded interesting and I started going down my list of things with interesting titles that had spoken to me. Then I stumbled upon the Junior Division talks… I saw there was Junior Division Talk number 2, and in the next folder, Junior Division Talk number 3. And so, the question was what happened to number one? That is where you all, as librarians, came in and were super helpful in trying to help me search the internet. And then it was suggested that I reach out to the RSPCA... and that worked! I got a response from them within 24 hours. A volunteer archivist sent me 9 additional talks, and two sections from the annual reports from 1934 and 1935 detailing what the Junior Division was, because it had been formed in 1934, and how well it was doing in 1935. This was clearly research that no one had seen except this volunteer archivist and myself. So then it became a question of what can I do with this? How can this be brought to light and really put into conversation with everything else that we have?

Editor’s note: We here in the SCRC aren’t the only archivists working to make sure that materials from history survive for future research. There are many other people doing the same important work, such as Phil Browning, the volunteer archivist at the RSPCA mentioned above. If you have a research interest that’s not supported by our collections at NC State, don’t hesitate to search other institutions’ digital materials, or reach out to an archivist at an institution that has materials related to your interests. There are few things that makes archivists happier than seeing the materials we care for being brought to light.

This copy of Junior Division Talk no. 3 was cited by Duke in the paper she wrote for Dr. Morillo's class. Access the digital version here.

Something that’s so special about these resources is that it’s the chance to see history with your own eyes and not through the lens of a textbook.

Tell us about your experience using digitized special collections materials.

KV: It was especially helpful because I would be working on my paper at night. And I can’t always be at the library, so [with digitized material] I can look this up really quickly and make sure I phrased this quote right and then I can go back to writing.

SD: I was very excited when everything was digitized because that meant I could do the research from the comfort of my apartment.

As you worked with special collections materials, did you find anything particularly surprising or interesting?

KV: Talking about the physicality of the materials, the fact that I could see the rust spots and the holes from where they had staples and the fact that [the staples] were no longer there was really interesting. But in terms of the actual contents, the fact that [the author] said that it was an act of sabotage to mess with the birds made me step back a little bit, but also that they would anthropomorphize [the birds]... and that they would even use strong language was really interesting to me. I didn’t expect [the authors of these pamphlets] to be so direct and aggressive, but they were.

SD: [The materials are] so incredibly versatile. I really wanted to adapt my ENG 101 curriculum this semester to include something to that effect… If I get to come back to 101 I’ll definitely be finding a way to bring [primary source literacy] in. Because it’s such an essential skill and it’s something that we seem to forget that we have access to.

Librarians are your greatest allies.

What would you want someone who has never done archival research to know?

KV: Try to physically go to the archives first. After that, use the digital collection to your heart’s content because it’s really simple. But I think that there is something about being able to actually handle the materials and to be able to actually hold these 100-year-old documents that creates an impact. The fact that you have to go on a physical hunt might change your search in a way that’s different than a digital hunt.

SD: First and foremost, librarians are your greatest allies. Please ask them for help. I would never have even thought to contact the RSPCA and my whole project would have never happened had I not gotten that suggestion.

There’s something very powerful about that first encounter with primary sources, physical or digital. What do you think that we get from working with those materials?

KV: I think there’s a sense that ‘this is real.’ You see it in a digital form and of course it’s real, but whenever you’re actually holding it yourself you realize that that was fed through a printing press and anywhere from one to dozens of other people also held that pamphlet at one time. The fact that you feel this connection to the past that is a little bit lost if you’re not physically holding it.

SD: I think something that’s so special about these resources is that it’s the chance to see history with your own eyes and not through the lens of a textbook. To actually encounter the documents as they were and to then form your own opinions and your own understanding of those texts and their implications. That’s first and foremost why it matters. It’s a chance to go in with a fresh perspective and really understand a time period for what it was based on your own interaction with those documents, as opposed to reading someone else’s pre-formulated opinions.

Interested in teaching with Special Collections? Want to learn more about how primary sources can enrich your instruction? You can find more information on our Teach with Special Collections page, or request an instruction session through the Libraries' Instruction Request form. Make sure to specify Special Collections as the type of session.

The resources featured in this post, as well as other digital resources digitized through the Animal Turn Project, are available in the Libraries' Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to over a million images, drawings, video, audio recordings, and textual materials from the Libraries' Special Collections Research Center.