Accepting the Lifetime Experience Grant was the perfect way to end an equally perfect college experience. As a history major, I applied for, and received, a grant to conduct research on a microfilmed collection of interviews taken in Louisville, Kentucky during the American Civil War. The interviews, it seemed, had gone largely unnoticed by the historical community, and my research plan was to transcribe the documents in digital form, collect brief biographical sketches on each of the individuals interviewed, and give copies of the interviews and biographies to Western’s Special Collection Library, the Institute for Civil War Studies, and the Filson Historical Society: the current home of the interview collection. The majority of biographical research I collected, to supplement the interviews, came from contemporary, Louisville encyclopedias and several mid- to late-nineteenth century books and directories. While a few of the interviewees were well-known individuals—such as Joshua Fry Speed, known prominently as President Abraham Lincoln’s best friend—many of the interviewees were rather obscure individuals historically, and it gave me great satisfaction, following the research, to know that I likely knew as much about several of the individuals as there ever was to know about them. Most of the research that I conducted was heavily archival and falls under the umbrella of public history—a subfield of history were practitioners work with history in public settings such as museums, archival and historical societies, libraries, or national parks.
I am interested in pursuing public history as a career following my graduation. The grant, fortunately, provided me with an opportunity to be actively involved in my career path and gain a summer and fall of work experience. This practical application of the knowledge I have gained during my undergraduate years convinced me of the extreme usefulness of the grant and persuaded me to bring about others to apply for the grant as well. While the grant serves a practical purpose, it also gives individuals the opportunity to experience their future. It is often the case that amidst the reading assignments, term papers, and projects students are required to complete, students are too busy worrying about what someone else wants them to do and not about what the students, individually, desire. With grants provided by the Office of Scholar Development, students have the opportunity to determine their research topic, choose the books they read, and design their own schedule. This independence allows students to experience firsthand the career they may one day hope to pursue. Class work is seldom the real-world, but independent research—for students entering academia in the sciences, math, the arts, and the humanities—is the real-world, and independently experiencing an intensive research project can help an individual decide if their current career choice is indeed the career they want to spend the rest of their lives doing. If the experience of others is anything like my own, the grant will be one of the most significant, and satisfying, career choices of their life.
*Ethan used his LTE grant to fund research at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, KY.