This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Hannah Whitaker
I entered this fellowship with an interest in children’s literature and natural history books, and quickly gravitated towards Victorian Era botanical texts written by women for children – a niche, yet important, genre. Historical Floridan literature also piqued my interest, as I delved into a research project based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings with manuscripts archivist Florence Turcotte – an opportunity only possible through this unique fellowship. One book that combined all of these interests was Familiar Lectures on Botany, a textbook developed by the renowned nineteenth-century American teacher and scientist Almira Hart Phelps. The Rare Book Collection has a copy that contains pressed flowers, signatures and inscriptions from two school-age girls in Alabama and in Gainesville who signed the book in 1853 and 1919, respectively.
As the fellowship progressed, we talked about how libraries can reach people during a time of social distancing and quarantines, and decided to produce an online exhibit based on my research using Scalar, a digital publishing platform which allows for many different types of content to be brought together online. This project was rewarding not only due to the information I gathered from scouring texts from the nineteenth century, because I learned how to translate it into new forms, navigating programming, publishing, and writing for exhibitions. Access to information is imperative, and I feel grateful to this fellowship for teaching me how to share findings on an intuitive, public platform.
Learning how to use Scalar was initially a challenge, as the program is designed to allow users to choose their own paths through a series of pages. The author must first program a natural flow of chapters, including text and import sources or, in my case, images, into the project database. Learning basic commands and operations in the program was difficult, but eventually clicked, which expedited and eased the process. I constantly edited and published, reedited and republished until my chapters – including research and scanned photos – fit squarely into a visually-pleasing, informative publication. The final product, titled Women and Stems, can be accessed by clicking the button below.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Discovery Fellow in the Special and Area Studies Collections at UF. My time scouring century-old texts, handling authentic Rawlings letters, and working with curators in Special Collections impacted my post-undergraduate trajectory, as I now am applying to masters programs in Library Science in order to become a children’s librarian. I am indebted to Neil Weijer and Bridget Bihm-Manuel, who oversaw the Discovery Fellowship, Florence Turcotte, who trusted me to assist with her research, Professor Rae Yan, who encouraged me to apply, and to Joseph and Rebecca White for making the fellowship possible.