OUR Featured Researcher: Meredith Warden ’23
Meredith Warden (she/they) is majoring in history. She conducts research under the mentorship of Robert S. Danforth Professor of History Renee Romano. Her project is titled “Historic House Museums and Queerness Narratives.”
Please describe your project:
My thesis explores how four historic house sites in the U.S. interpret the histories of figures who are known or are suspected to be queer: the Sarah Orne Jewett House, the Gibson House, the Alice Austen House, and the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice. Through their efforts to tell queerness narratives, these sites offer insights into the fundamental questions, challenges, and possibilities of public history and particularly of the historic house museum field today.
A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:
Many see historic house sites as old, stuffy, and outdated within the public history field. But what potential do they hold to tell stories of queer history, and what limitations and strengths of these sites are revealed through their efforts to tell these stories? Can they be innovative sites of public history?
Why is your research important?
My research is important because it gives insight into how the field of public history is changing and the challenges that this field is dealing with when trying to tell narratives about historically marginalized groups, specifically queer people. My thesis also considers whether historic house museums are a ‘dying’ genre of public history, or whether they have potential to be truly engaging and relevant sites.
What does the process of doing your research look like?
My research looks a lot like visiting various archives, touring the house museums I’m studying, interviewing various people at each site (executive directors, curators, tour guides/docents, etc.), and lots and lots of writing. Although the bulk of my research is done by myself, I also get feedback and support from people like my advisor and the other History Honors students.
What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?
I argue that looking at queerness narratives within these four historic house sites indicate that historic house sites do have unique strengths that could make them innovative places for public history. In other words, they do not have to be the ‘defunct’ and irrelevant places that people sometimes perceive them to be; they can be engaging, relevant, and personally moving sites of queer history.
In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?
I gave an oral defense and a presentation on my research as a part of the Honors program.
How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?
I love the process of historical research so much—I view it as kind of like finding puzzle pieces and then putting them all together to create a synthesis. I’ve always enjoyed writing and figuring out how to create an argument out of the evidence that I have, so doing Honors was something that naturally appealed to me. I’ve also had many professors tell me that I should consider doing Honors because of my interest in research, and their support of me also helped me view Honors as something that I could feasibly do.
What is your favorite aspect of the research process?
Sometimes writing such a big paper can be difficult, but the moments when I have an ‘A-ha!’ moment while writing are amazing. One of my teachers once told me that ‘Writing is a way of thinking,’ and that statement has always stuck with me when I think about how the actual process of writing my paper has affected what meaning I find in my research. I also just really love finding a primary source that isn’t relevant for my paper but allows me to imagine what that person’s life might have been like, like doodles in the margins of a diary or loving nicknames in a letter.
How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?
Professor Romano’s scholarship is mostly about historical memory, public history, and race, so having her as my thesis advisor has been amazing. She often suggests new angles through which to think about my research, and sometimes will even say things that I’ve been feeling but unable to express myself. I’m so grateful for her advice and support over this entire process.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
It’s shown me that I can undertake a large, independent project such as writing an Honors paper and enjoy doing it, even though it can be stressful sometimes. It’s also made me more convinced that I would like to do some level of research/writing in whatever career field I go into.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
Pick something you’re interested in and remember what makes you passionate about your research. This work can be really arduous and it’s easy to get discouraged, but going back to the root of why you’re interested in the topic can help you keep going. And remember that your research isn’t your whole life! It’s necessary to take breaks from it and do other things.