In Circulation: Modern Literature, Philosophy, Art, and the Medium of the Postcard




Professor of German and Comparative Literature

Project Summary

Through PURM, I was matched with Professor Weissberg, whose current project is on the political, literary, and artistic significance and impact of postcards as correspondence in the early 20th century. My goals were to assist Professor Weissberg with locating, accessing, and viewing postcards and other original materials in various archives, as well as to learn more about the process of conducting research in the humanities.

Over the course of the project, while coordinating with Professor Weissberg in Germany, I traveled to various archives around Philadelphia - including the ones housed at the University of Pennsylvania (at Van Pelt's Kislak Center), the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Rosenbach Library. I viewed and digitally photographed hundreds of original postcard holdings, and compiled and organized them so they could be viewed electronically. To locate holdings that would be useful for the project, I submitted collections inquiries and consulted with librarians and archivists. I also created bibliographies of related material.

As an English major, I had not traditionally thought of my field as having many opportunities for student research; this was my first introduction to research in the humanities. In terms of the project, I learned how to navigate a number of challenges that can come with research - complying with reading room procedures, handling special collections, sorting through large amounts of material to find relevant information, and coordinating the research project's details. Looking at these postcards raised many interesting and useful questions, but I felt limited in my ability to answer them: by special collections policies, by a lack of knowledge (my inability to read German and French), by the volume of ephemera to sort through and the accompanying number of directions to go in. However, instead of being discouraging, my PURM experience has shown me how much more there is to learn. The experience has clarified for me what I want to study, and shown me that I can and should pursue it in spite of the challenges. Regardless of whether I pursue research further in my academic career, this research process has given me skills and problem-solving abilities that I hope will be useful in any field.