Welcome David McDevitt

Since the last week of August, I’ve been working at the Ohio History Connection as an intern in the Manuscripts Department with my supervisor, Kieran. My duties so far have been filing, cataloging, and creating finding aids for previously unprocessed collections. Boiled down, this means that I’m organizing each collection so that any researcher interested in its contents can easily find what they’re looking for, and not have to sift through piles of non-relevant material.

I started with a very small, relatively easy collection (MSS 1044 if anyone’s interested) that was already halfway done when I was assigned it. MSS 1044, aka The Carrie Kinder Papers, is a series of documents and paraphernalia pertaining to Jimmy Carter, the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and his subsequent victory that November. Going through these documents provided me with a really fascinating and unique window into the 1976 presidential campaign, especially considering that we’re in the midst of another election process exactly 40 years later!

After that, Kieran graduated me to a significantly larger collection, the William E. Chancellor Papers (MSS 1143). William Chancellor was a professor in the first half of the 20th century, teaching at both the College of Wooster and the University of Cincinnati. His primary claim to fame, however, is that he was a vocal opponent of our esteemed 29th president, Warren G. Harding. During the 1920 presidential campaign, Chancellor aggressively spread the rumor that Harding had an African-American ancestor in an attempt to embarrass and undermine Harding’s legitimacy. This was super interesting to me because it reflected in a very personal way the era’s intense racial prejudices.

Chancellor’s papers hadn’t been organized at all, so it took a few days, but I eventually got it all filed away. Oh, and for what it’s worth, there’s not really any evidence that Harding had an African-American branch on his family tree.
Full of academic vigor after finishing with Chancellor’s collection, I was pumped to take the next step in my internship journey. Kieran decided I was ready for the big leagues, and assigned me a massive collection of photographs and papers relating to an expansive statewide project that catalogued the many and diverse quilts of Ohio. Not only is the quilt collection many times larger than my first two collections combined, but it was in a state of considerable disarray when I started. First encountering this monstrosity shattered any feelings of confidence gained by processing the previous two collections, although since then I’ve made steady progress towards organizing the collection. In the meantime, I’m also working with a few small side projects to both provide a respite from quilts as well as teach me other aspects of working with manuscripts.So far I’ve been pleased with how cool and interesting this internship has been. Kieran had me working with real, historic documents from on my very first day here, and each collection I’ve worked with since then has yielded some pretty neat or even funny information and facts. Case in point: while working on a side project in mid-September, I found record of a man in the mid-late nineteenth century, William Coggeshall, who named his daughter “Emancipation Proclamation Coggeshall!” One of the things that’s surprised me the most about the Ohio History Connection has been how interesting the materials are that I’m working with. It’s been a treat to look at and work with such a wide array of historical documents that I certainly wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

I studied history as an undergraduate at Miami University (go Redhawks), so this line of work has been really engaging for me in particular. I think my interest in history stems from the fact that I really enjoy seeing how people thought and interacted in the past, as well as how the past influences and shapes our present.

My undergraduate thesis dealt with Hessian prisoners of war during the American Revolution, and while that topic has closer ties to other states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, I believe it also connects with Ohio, albeit in a more minor way. Hopefully, interning at Ohio History Connection can give me experience and open some doors for me, ultimately leading to a career in public history. All that said, the amount of documents stored here is absolutely huge, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there’s something here for everyone, regardless of your interests!


Posted September 30, 2016
Topics: Presidents & Politics

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