Imagine this: You have free rein to explore any topic of your choosing at the premier research library for the study of Shakespeare. Where do you start?
For six Amherst students, answering that question opened a plethora of possibilities, from 15th century midwifery manuals and case studies to 16th and 17th century costume books and architectural renderings.
The Amherst-Folger Fellowship brought Irisdelia Garcia '18, Emma Hartman '17, Catherine Lowdon '17, Kevin Mei '16, Jacob Pagano '18 and Crystal Park '17 to Washington, D.C., where they spent two weeks in January conducting research at the College’s Folger Shakespeare Library.
Considered the premier research library in the world for the study of Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, the Folger also boasts major collections for research in European arts, culture and history from the early 15th century to the end of the 18th century. Its founder, Henry Clay Folger, graduated from Amherst in 1879.
The Amherst–Folger Fellowship program began in 1996 and now awards as many as six student fellowships each year through funds provided by the Friends of the Amherst College Library. In addition to conducting independent research, the fellows attend sessions led by Folger scholars that cover a broad range of topics related to the library's collections. This year's students delved into media history, archival research methods and material culture, from early modern books, manuscripts and art to the curation of modern editions and digital texts.
As part of “Amherst Explorations,” an April celebration of student research, the students shared their research with the Amherst community.
Mei, a double major in English and neuroscience, says he was “blown away by the variety of incredible materials I had access to” at the Folger. His research topic, “The Falling Sickness and its Remedies,” made use of early modern midwifery manuals, recipe books, anatomy textbooks, medicinal dispensatories and case studies. “I ultimately decided to look at epilepsy and the crazy treatments recommended to patients,” Mei says. He was most surprised to find 15th and 16th century references to two common treatments for the condition: cannibalism and hanging peony root around one's neck.
Garcia, who called her time spent at the Folger a “once in a lifetime experience,” researched how technology has affected contemporary retellings of Shakepeare’s Othello. Her project, “Focus, Virtuality, and Othello,” made use of 19th century prompt books as well as modern films, and culminated with the creation of a “choose your own adventure” video game. In looking at how technology has the potential to affect narratives, Garcia's video game gives users control over how the last scene of Othello plays out. “You enter as a guard,” Garcia says, “and decide whether to follow Othello or [his antagonist] Iago.”