LAMI Researchers Add African American and Puerto Rican Women to Database
The Collective Biographies of Women received help from six students from universities across the country this summer as part of the Leadership Alliance Mellon Institute (LAMI), a program for advanced undergraduates planning to pursue doctoral study in the humanities and social sciences. The LAMI students, pictured above, worked with their faculty mentor, Alison Booth (Professor, English Department) during their stay this summer.
The students have had a critical role in the current research taking place in the CBW database of historical persons. Armed with a list of women to investigate, the students checked to see if the subjects are already present in the database. “If they were,” Lilybeth Shields explained, “we looked for any information… that could be added to what we already know about them.” If the subjects aren’t in the database? Shields explained that they “created a person file for them” that is attached to the appropriate biography and collection. The students also created tables of contents for these collections, said Kayla Pinson, researching and inserting the title and subject of each chapter-length biography into some of the CBW database’s most crucial fields. “The students have jumped right into the database,” said Booth, “and collaborated together to enhance our data on 22 collections.” “I’ve been really impressed with their quick, accurate, well-reasoned work,” Booth commented, adding that “two of the students have worked on a collection on Latinas that we didn’t have before.”
Through their participation in the LAMI program, students have spent about 20% of their time working in the database for the Collective Biographies of Women and the remaining 80% of their time working on personal research projects and attending leadership or educational seminars. The students worked within the African American women cohort, a group created within the database after Alison Booth won the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities Level II Startup Grant. “CBW collaborates with Social Networks in Archival Context (SNAC), which aggregates data about persons from archives worldwide,” said Dr. Booth. The LAMI students worked on a study of the 22 all-female, all-African American collective biographies in the CBW database to determine “who wrote them, where they were published, and what other roles or occupations the subjects of these biographical chapters played,” said Booth.
Much of the time these students have spent at the University of Virginia has been dedicated to their personal research projects. Projects range from studies of comic books and video games to studies of justice and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. Other projects include representations of African American women in currently recommended Common Core literature to studies of public perception and identity for Puerto Ricans and research into how Southern Christians from 1830-1861 developed their slavery theologies.
Though disparate in their specific subject, all these projects explore social issues that often surround the subjugation of minority populations. These students are tapping into questions that plague both academia and society at large, making their research supremely relevant to the fields they plan to enter. “Universities have for decades claimed to want a more diverse student body and faculty,” said Booth, “We can’t hire PhDs of diverse backgrounds if graduate programs can’t bring in people of color from undergraduate school.” The goal of the LAMI program is to break down many of the barriers preventing minority students from entering graduate schools and strives to prepare them for what they will encounter upon beginning courses at either their master’s or doctoral programs. “This program brings in a diverse set of highly qualified students and provides them with a mentor,” says Booth. “They come out of the intensive program with experience in presenting conference papers and writing an essay that could be revised as a writing sample. Meanwhile, they meet faculty at a research-1 university, take GRE preparation classes, and encounter each other’s very different disciplines and experiences.”