Hello, I am Scott Saunders; a rising senior majoring in history and minoring in legal studies. This summer I have been taking part in a research project organized by 4VA and OSCAR and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project is coordinated and headed by Professor Tom Ewing of Virginia Tech who has not only been guiding the course of this project, but is also a major part of the research. I am a part of a varied group of eight students and graduates from three Virginian universities. Our respective academic backgrounds are in several different areas, including history, mathematics, communications, and various sciences. The focus of our research is the study of Tuberculosis in 19th century United States; we conduct this research by searching through and analyzing obituaries from the years 1870 to 1910. From these obituaries we gather any and all information about the person, their lives, and the Tuberculosis which led to their death.
Through this research we hope to further explore and understand the effect of Tuberculosis upon Americans; both personally and as a society. Through our exploration of the disease in America we have further narrowed our research into various sub-themes. One of the sub-themes that attracted my interest was medical advertisements for Tuberculosis. The incredible similarities between contemporary advertisements and 19th advertisements were striking, although the outlandish claims which were all too common in the latter have since been regulated.
My colleagues, Professor Ewing, and myself meet every week over Skype to discuss progress on the research and to develop the next steps to be taken in the project. Due to the nature of the project and of the various locations of the team members we use various forms of digital communications to facilitate. This creates a unique opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of digital, collaborative communication. Alongside our typical data gathering we also read various medical journals, books, and histories which pertain to both the research as a whole as well as the sub-themes.
As part of the team I have come to understand not only professional academic work, but also what technology means for academics in the future. The use of Skype, Slack, Google Docs, and e-mail has proven how effective digital communication can be for academia. We have shown that the digital era can produce results that equal or even exceed those produced by projects which meet physically. This effectiveness and efficiency might be just another example of the way in which academics can proceed. Collaboration across all countries, institutions, and fields of study should be taken advantage of.
For myself, the opportunity to work on a professional program with other students alongside professorial guidance, has been incredible. To be able to apply what you have been learning throughout your academic career in a project outside of the classroom is a relief. A relief in that your studies have been worthwhile and character forming; that you get to apply it even further when you present in front of other academics and professionals. It is truly something to be called an academic colleague by actual scholars and professionals. I have come to appreciate the importance of effective communication, of sharing ideas, of learning from others. This last one I believe to be paramount. No matter someone’s level of experience, in academics or life, there is always purpose in listening.