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Uncommon Sense

By oieahc · October 05, 2016

Meet the OI apprentices

WMQ 15 min read


(Pictured left to right) Frances Bell, Emily Wells, Kaila Schwartz, Cody Nager, Holly Gruntner, Chris Slaby, Mitch Oxford, and Ravynn Stringfield. Not pictured: Rebecca Capobianco

The OI partners with the College of William & Mary’s Lyon G. Tyler Department of History to administer the Editorial Apprenticeship Program. The decades-long program introduces entering graduate students to the practices of scholarly publishing and historical editing. Each year, students participate in two weeks of full-time training in August, followed by part-time work during the academic year on Institute books and the William and Mary Quarterly. Over the years, apprentices have gone on to careers in academic and trade publishing or documentary editing. Many have continued to pursue research and teaching, armed with a better understanding of historical documentation, writing, and publishing conventions.

Here are the 2016-17 apprentices in their own words.


Frances Bell: Funnily enough, the William and Mary Quarterly was actually one of the main reasons I applied to the College of William & Mary. As an undergrad writing a thesis on the Haitian Revolution—a subject that, despite recent developments, is relatively understudied—I soon came to value the Quarterly’s articles for their quality, insight, and accuracy. When the time came to apply to grad school, William & Mary seemed like an obvious choice. I knew I wanted to focus on colonial Atlantic history and to travel from Scotland to the United States to do this (in search of opportunities, geographical proximity to my subject, and, of course, funding!). The more I looked into the History department, the better it seemed. The focus on early American history, the program structure, and the select size of the graduate cohort—not to mention the professors with interests in every corner of the Atlantic world—all sounded ideal. As a word nerd with a pedantic bent and respect for the WMQ, the opportunity to apprentice with the Omohundro Institute was another exciting bonus. Since I arrived, these expectations have been happily fulfilled. While it’s been a learning curve, I’m thrilled to be studying at a high level. And, as an antidote to the workload, it’s wonderful to be able to set aside a few hours each week for quiet, methodical Institute work.

Rebecca Capobianco: I am currently pursuing my doctorate in nineteenth-century U.S. history at William & Mary. I received my master’s degree in American and public history from Villanova University. While at Villanova I participated in the Memorable Days Project, transcribing, annotating, and digitizing the diary of Emilie Davis, an African American woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. I previously worked as an educational consultant and seasonal park ranger with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Additionally, I have worked as an adjunct professor of history at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. My interests include nineteenth-century reform movements, memory and commemoration, contests over public space, and the ways the Civil War defined and continues to define national identity in the United States.

Holly Gruntner: Hailing from the great state of Minnesota, I graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris (the liberal arts branch of the University of Minnesota system), with a B.A. in English and a minor in history. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on Victorian domestic authority as exemplified by Virginia Woolf’s enigmatic heroine Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse. Following graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I spent two years working in Congressional Relations at the Library of Congress. It was there, while researching and writing scripts and giving tours of the Library, that I first started to think about public history and museum work as a potential career. I have just begun the College of William & Mary’s history M.A. program, where my research interests include public history, early America, gender, and conceptions of the frontier. I came to William & Mary for its mild summer climate and, more importantly, for its focus on early America, for proximity to exemplary museums at Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, and for the opportunity to work closely with new early American scholarship at the Omohundro Institute.

Cody Nager: I am a master’s student at William & Mary with an interest in the history of the early American Republic, especially immigration policy and the development of national identity in the face of perceived threats from foreigners and other outsiders. My current project focuses on the origins of the Naturalization Act of 1790, which was shaped by concerns over suffrage, land ownership, and immigration during the Confederation Period. A 2016 graduate of Columbia University as a John Jay Scholar, I was awarded three fellowships for research focused on the 1790s political climate and commercial legislation in forming national identity. A 2016 Gilder Lehrman History Scholar, I have previously worked as a research assistant at the John Jay Papers Project before joining the Omohundro Institute as an editorial apprentice.

Mitchell Edward Oxford: I come to the Omohundro Institute after completing my M.A. in History from the University of South Carolina (2014) and after several years working for a small academic press that specializes in literary criticism. I am interested in religion in the revolutionary Atlantic and the early American Republic, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to apply the skills I picked up at Layman Poupard Publishing to working within my own discipline and scholarly interests.

Kaila Schwartz: As I neared the end of my undergraduate career at Brandeis, I knew I wanted to continue to work in the field of history. I believed, naively, that I could secure a job in history with a bachelor’s degree; but it was 2008, and job prospects were bleak. Trying to blend practicality with passion, I enrolled in the history/archives management dual master’s program at Simmons College. Four years and two degrees later, I still was not ready to leave academia forever. After applying to many Ph.D. programs (and receiving a few acceptances), I chose William & Mary for several reasons: the alignment of my scholarly interests with those of several history professors, the institutional commitment to interdisciplinary exploration, and the unique apprenticeship program that would allow me to build marketable skills. I am generally interested in the social and cultural history of pre-twentieth century America, especially in New England. My particular interest is in naming patterns. My research to date has explored how changes in the messages names evoked and the forces guiding their selection reflect broader shifts in cultural and religious beliefs. I hope to expand my research numerically, geographically, temporally, and ethnically as I work toward my dissertation.

Christopher J. Slaby: I am a scholar working at the intersections of history, memory, popular representation, and environment, particularly in the Native Northeast. Originally from New Jersey, I’ve come to Williamsburg most recently from Madison, Wisconsin, where I completed an M.A. in Art History. I choose William & Mary for my graduate education because it is an ideal place to work at the intersections of early Native American history and contemporary Native American identity. As a historian, I care very much about the past. But as a scholar of Native history especially, I believe that we cannot and should not separate our thinking about the past from more recent events. The Ph.D. program in American Studies at William & Mary allows me to study the long history and politics of Native American representation. At the same time, I benefit from access to faculty and colleagues in the History and Anthropology Departments and the amazing resources of the Omohundro Institute. William & Mary is also an excellent place to think about memory and public history. Colonial Williamsburg offers a fascinating case study in popularizing the past. Williamsburg itself is also a quiet and beautiful place to live and work.

Ravynn Stringfield: I am a first-year M.A./Ph.D. student in American Studies here at the College of William & Mary. I received my B.A. in French Language & Literature and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia in May. My research interests primarily include representations of people of color in graphic novels, a topic that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on, and thus I enjoy using African American history and political culture to inform how I understand popular culture representations today. I choose William & Mary because the American Studies program provided me with the freedom to explore every facet of my interests. Because of my training in English and foreign language, a program in comparative literature or English might have been the more likely choice, but I realized those programs were constrictive. I love exploring representations of identity in web culture and African American history as well as pursuing a definite interest in art and aesthetics, topics I would have had limited exposure to if not for William & Mary’s flexible American Studies program, which allows me to base myself in one discipline and then incorporate all types of knowledge into my scholarship. I wouldn’t trade the creative freedom I am offered here for the world.

Emily Wells: Originally from Minnesota, my education has led me east, first to Massachusetts and now to Virginia, where I am a first-year M.A./Ph.D. student in the History program at William & Mary. As an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, I studied the history and material culture of early America. Outside of class, I pursued my academic interests through curatorial internships at Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Deerfield, and Old Sturbridge Village. My senior thesis, which was inspired by objects that I had encountered through my work with these museums, examined geography education in female academies and boarding schools during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a graduate student, I am excited to continue exploring the lives of women in early America, particularly how young women formed and maintained networks of friendships over the course of their education and beyond. I chose to attend William & Mary because of the program’s strength in early American history, the college’s proximity to institutions that are actively engaged in the study of material culture, and the opportunity to gain professional experience through the apprenticeship program.


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