As part of our major grant from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, HAA has instituted the Mellon Fellowship in Curation and Education. Selected competitively, one graduate student from HAA each year works with the consortium Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh and with our academic curator. The fellow plays an integral role in mentoring the cohort of undergraduate interns and also develops a collaborative research project of her own involving one or more consortium partners.
Colleen O'Reilly (2016-2017 Mellon Fellow)
As Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education, Colleen is pursuing a research project in collaboration with Aisling Quigley, graduate student in the School of Information Sciences, on the history of the dioramas of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This multi-year project uses archival research, interviews, and workshops, to investigate the history of this unique space, put it into historical context, and use it as a jumping off point to explore theoretical questions about objects that bridge art and science. We are also investigating the potential of digital tools to make the complexities of Botany Hall more visible to the public. This project involves the collaboration of museum staff and faculty and students at Pitt. In 2016-2017, Colleen and Aisling are mentoring undergraduate art history students in their own research projects about Botany Hall, and creating a digital exhibition to display the results of these inquiries through text, images, video and audio. This work relates to Colleen’s broader research interests in connections between art and science and American postwar photography, as well as her future professional goals of using museum collections in teaching and finding ways to make research visible through exhibitions.
Nicole Scalissi (2015-2016 Mellon Fellow)
As the Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education for 2015-6, a major aspect of my position was to develop a pilot consortium-based research project that would model Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh’s investment in undergraduate research, graduate student mentorship, and use of local collections to create a public-facing product.
In partnership with Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, and with the help of two undergraduate interns, I developed an oral project to tell the multiple layers of history at the Carrie Furnaces, an iron mill that was once essential to steel production in the Monongahela Valley. Now a national heritage site, Carrie hosts hundreds of tours each year, mostly led by her former workers. When the mill closed in the early 1980s, Carrie became a site of prolific graffiti production and some of the colorful pieces, throw-ups, and characters still cling to the site. To chronicle the intertwined histories of skilled labor and graffiti at Carrie, I trained the interns to collect the oral histories of a selection of graffiti artists and former mill workers who now work as tour guides. Courtney and Angelica collected nine lengthy oral histories of artists and former workers, and became undergraduate research assistants the following semester to continue archival research, transcribe the oral histories, and develop their own short essays to introduce the material they generated. Our goal is to publish their stories as a book, illustrated with pictures of this photogenic site and selections from its rich archives, and show Rivers of Steel as a model for historic preservation that allows multiple layers of history to coexist to tell a rich story of this region’s history.
This experience of working closely with oral history experts at Rivers of Steel has been immensely helpful to my dissertation research, as I have developed new skills in interviewing and collecting oral histories. I grew as a scholar and mentor through the process of teaching the interns how to advance a research question over multiple stages (articulate—as a team—our central questions, locate local expertise to advance the project, open up our art history practice to a diverse public in presentations and writing, integrate the data we generated and archival work into a larger publication, etc.). As a first-time site advisor (spring 2016), I learned to break down their semester-length project into practical units; identify new resources over the course of the semester (lectures, workshops, field trips, research fairs); instruct and supervise interns in collecting oral histories and deposit them in the RoS archives; advise interns in using archival collections; and write several gifts-of-deed forms, including one allowing varying levels of anonymity for contributing graffiti artists.