My Work at the Burns Library

I am a first year Ph.D student in History at Boston College. I am primarily interested in the themes of power and colonization and in the unique historical environment of the Early Modern Atlantic World, especially the experience of the Irish throughout the Atlantic World. Unsurprisingly, Boston College is a unique environment for such an endeavor with a number of pertinent resources for my studies. One such opportunity has been my job at the Burns Library, where I work as an assistant to the Irish Studies Bibliographer, Kathleen Williams.

In this capacity, I have performed a variety of tasks to help Kathleen with her work. Some tasks have been simple, such as double-checking book orders with our catalog to make sure we do not order a book we already own. Some have been more hands on with the archival collections, like working through primary sources to either prepare for a class to use or for our own research purposes. Both the former and the latter have been immensely helpful to me as a graduate student.

Preparing primary sources for undergraduate classes has stimulated pedagogical interests. When professors bring undergraduates to Burns, they and Kathleen introduce the students to the vast resources at their disposal. They cover the basics of research etiquette and how to handle fragile sources, as well as how to engage critically with and interpret historical sources. Helping prepare the sources has introduced me to what it might be like as an instructor preparing a class around given materials: which sources might students find interesting? Which might best stimulate historical questions and analysis? How can this process get them thinking about interpreting the past? Watching the students engage with primary sources has confirmed my belief that students learn best through active and didactic experiences designed to be engaging and stimulating: having students engage in historical research is one of the best ways to encourage an interest in history.

Researching for our own uses has similarly been fruitful. Kathleen and I work with these primary sources to prepare the Burns Library’s exhibits, such as the recent Irish Women Rising Exhibit and, then, work on blog posts that further highlight themes of the exhibit. As a first year Ph.D student, I am still familiarizing myself with the resources available to me at Boston College and, also, still considering what avenues of historical research I may want to follow: this experience is certainly a good way to familiarize myself with Boston College’s resources! It has also helped me think critically about the past, how the public perceives the past via things such as historical exhibits, and what kind of questions I want to ask about the past.

  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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