Filson Fellowships & Summer Internships
By Jennifer Reiss Hannah
Filson Fellow Arthur Rolston, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, consulted The Filson’s library and special collections for researching his dissertation, “Encountering Capitalism: Constitutional Legislation from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era.” Rolston proposes that a general trend in state constitution- making that emerged in the early 1840s resulted in the adoption of provisions that set policy over public and private economic relationships having little to do with the structure of or participation in government, and that lessened the power of state legislature to control such policies. In attempting to tell a national story, his focus is on examining conventions called to rewrite existing constitutions in the states of Kentucky, Ohio, California and New York between 1846 and 1912.
Rolston divided his time at The Filson between the library’s collection of period newspapers and pamphlets, and the special collection department’s archives of letters and memoirs of several participants of Kentucky’s conventions. His fellowship at The Filson provided him with “a much deeper understanding of the important social, political and economic issues and conflicts that were in play.”
Luke Harlow of Wheaton College, Illinois, referred to the library’s pamphlet collection as a “treasure trove,” which he used extensively in research for his master’s thesis, “Antislavery Thought in Antebellum Upper South: Kentucky Clergy, 1830-1860.” Harlow’s study delves into the uneasy relationship between slavery and Christianity in antebellum America, focusing on the antislavery dissenting clergy of the South. His thesis examines clerics who spent many of their active years in Kentucky, where there existed a mix of orthodox clergy who did not believe that slavery was right. In addition to the collection of rare pamphlets, Harlow consulted the papers of Robert J. Breckinridge, James Pendleton, John G. Fee and the Bullitt family. His work at The Filson introduced him to “a lot of stuff [he] hadn’t seen before . . . [which helped to] fill an intellectual gap.”
The issue of slavery in the Ohio Valley is also an interest of Filson Fellow Benjamin Lewis Fitzpatrick, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame. Fitzpatrick is in the beginning stages of researching his dissertation, “Negroes for Sale: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Slave Speculation in the Antebellum Bluegrass Region, 1820-1860.” According to Fitzpatrick, slavery and the slave trade in Kentucky is not a well-covered subject in historiography. His study examines the role of newspapers and slave advertisements in the culture of the Bluegrass, in the creation of cultural ties between Kentucky and the Deep South, and in the fostering of perceptions of slavery in the minds of Kentucky’s free soil neighbors. Fitzpatrick consulted The Filson’s collection of antebellum newspapers published between 1820 and 1860. His experience at The Filson changed his approach to his subject, as he is now reconsidering “Louisville as the central position of the Bluegrass slave trade” as opposed to Lexington.
Margaret Abruzzo’s dissertation, “Polemical Pain: Slavery, Suffering and Sympathy in 18th- and 19th-Century Moral Debate,” studies the roles of slave suffering and pain in shaping moral evaluations of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries as people regarded pain with a new moral significance. According to Abruzzo, western attitudes toward pain changed dramatically beginning in the 18th century as people began to interpret the infliction of unnecessary suffering as moral failure. A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame, Abruzzo received a Filson Fellowship to aid in her examination of pro- and anti-slavery writers in Kentucky. During her time at The Filson, she consulted the society’s collections of pamphlets, sermons, slave narratives, and papers of slaveholders, including eulogies written by slaveholders about their deceased slaves.
The Filson welcomed Kara Long as its first H.F. Boehl Summer Intern this year. Long is a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University where she is pursuing a master’s degree in historical administration. Her two-month internship project involved arranging and cataloging the Ohio River Valley Business Collection. This predominantly 20th century manuscript collection chronicles in part business and financial activities in Louisville and the Ohio Valley over some 100 years. In addition to providing research data on business and financial practices, the collection also demonstrates the national and international nature of the economic and financial communities at that time, as well as providing a glimpse of society.
The Filson Historical Society