topSkip to main content

Menu, Secondary

Menu Trigger


Students Comb Library Archives for Credit

Pages from a book of hours produced in France in the late 15th century

One student traced the history of a Pittsburgh ambulance service.

Another explored the search for communists in Pittsburgh in 1950.

Others used Pitt’s famed Elizabeth Nesbitt Collection to research nuances in children’s literature.

All of them had the opportunity to spend a full semester deep diving into Pitt’s massive University Library System collections to explore a subject of interest to them as recipients of the Spring 2018 Archives Scholars Research Awards.

“These students have a passion for their topic,” Associate University Librarian for Archives and Special Collections Ed Galloway told a group of about 30 people gathered for a lightning round wrap-up of the projects at Hillman Library.

For the third year in a row, the University Library System has partnered with the Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity to provide 10 undergraduates with a $1,000 stipend, one to three credits and an entire semester to conduct research, aided by a faculty mentor and a librarian.

For Gabriela Galli, who is already a paramedic and is graduating from Pitt this year with a bachelor’s degree in emergency medicine from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, researching Freedom House seemed a natural choice.

One of Galli’s courses briefly mentioned the Pittsburgh EMS service, which was based in the city’s Hill District neighborhood from 1967 to 1975 and was staffed by unemployed Black men who were trained in modern emergency medicine techniques. She started reading about the service in her spare time and said she was “horrified to discover how little recognition it received despite its importance in EMS development.”

Poring through correspondence, meeting minutes, research papers and articles within the Peter Safar papers in Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections and the Freedom House records at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, the young researcher learned that even after Freedom House closed due to financial reasons, many of its employees were empowered to go on to college, medical school and other health care professions. One former paramedic, Mitchell Brown, became the commissioner of emergency medical services in Cleveland. “He successfully reinvigorated that city’s EMS, which was severely struggling,” Galli said. Her faculty mentor was Carolyn Carson from the Urban Studies Program.

Other research projects included a study of various ways that one abolitionist text, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was presented to children; a look at discrimination against transgender individuals throughout the 20th century; an exploration of how marginalized children were represented in children’s books; information on how visitors to Pitt’s African Heritage Nationality Room learn about culture through the room’s artifacts; and an examination of artists’ books — including a book that is, itself, a work of art.

Sophomore Claudia Haines has always had a deep interest in medieval studies and is pursuing a certificate in that field while majoring in history and the history of art and architecture. In Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections, she found a French book of hours — a Christian devotional book very popular during the Middle Ages — that dated to the late 15th century. She’s working on an in-depth analysis of the book’s contents, colorful imagery and provenance.

Haines had her own “eureka moment” as she tracked the book’s origin. Her faculty mentor, Elizabeth Archibald from the Department of History, helped her decipher a signature inside the book’s front cover as “H. Zouch.” Looking through the United Kingdom National Archives website, she found that the Sheffield City Archives held a few letters written by Zouch. She emailed the archives asking if they could send her a scan of one of the letters so she could compare the signatures.

“They responded the next day with scans of three of Zouch’s letters,” she reported happily. She was able to confirm Zouch indeed was the owner of the book for a period of the late 18th century.

Jeanann Haas, who is the liaison between the University Library System and the Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity, said she loves to see these exciting breakthroughs.

“They make incredible discoveries,” she said, adding that the students’ work adds to the body of work on a topic that other researchers can build on.

Students Comb Pitt Archives for Credit was originally published on the University of Pittsburgh website.