Meet Our Staff: Mary Hale

Assistant Director of Scholarly and Undergraduate Programs Mary Hale runs two programs for undergraduate students in Chicago and the Midwest region. For this edition of Donor Digest, Mary talks to us about her work with the Newberry’s undergraduate seminars.

Undergraduate programs may not be familiar to many of our donors. Tell us about the two undergraduate programs you oversee.

I run two major undergraduate seminars at the Newberry. One is traditionally held in the fall and one in the spring. The fall seminar is an immersive program for students who are from colleges in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). They come to Chicago from small liberal arts colleges around the region and spend a full semester at the Newberry. It’s a longstanding partnership; the first seminar was in 1965. The courses are taught by a team of professors from some of the participating colleges who develop a curriculum around the Newberry’s collection strengths. The students spend half the semester in a traditional seminar setting and the other half immersing themselves in the archive as they work on an independent research project.

The other seminar is the NLUS, or Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar. That program is run by the Newberry, in the sense that we don’t have outside partners like we do with the ACM. NLUS is a 25-year-old program that the Newberry has directed with four participating Chicago area universities—DePaul University, University of Illinois Chicago, Loyola University, and Roosevelt University. NLUS students take their regular schedule at their home institutions along with this seminar at the Newberry, for which they receive credits. When they come to the Newberry, they join a cohort of about 20 students from these other universities. It follows a similar structure as the ACM program, with an independent study in the archive, but it’s less immersive since they don’t spend their entire semester at the library.

In your administrative role, do you have any regular input into the design of the courses?

In my administrative role, no, not in terms of choosing the theme or choosing the readings. But on another level, in an advisory capacity, I do get involved in helping the individual students work on their projects. I get them in touch with the right people in the building and help develop the collection presentations and other activities that are part of the program. I serve as a link between the visiting faculty, the students, and the Newberry. Even if I’m not the expert on a particular topic, I do know which experts to tap on the Newberry staff. We need a map presentation? Then we go to Jim Akerman, Director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography and Curator of Maps. If we need to explore rare printed materials, we go to Jill Gage, Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing. I help the faculty and students fully realize the seminars and their projects.

I am also currently teaching the NLUS class. So, I’m wearing both hats this year.

You mentioned before that the seminars for undergraduates are team taught. Why take this approach?

Team teaching is something a lot of students don’t experience. It allows for a conversation to happen among the faculty, often within the classroom. They’re going to approach things differently. They’re going to disagree with each other. Seeing the differences and the connections across fields then becomes a part of the experience for the students. What we ask from the faculty teams is that they’re interdisciplinary. I’m teaching the current NLUS course, for example, with Elliott Gorn from Loyola University. He’s a historian and I’m a literary historian. This gives the students a broad sense of humanistic discourse, of how we think differently inside the humanities. They see what I might do with an archive as a literary historian versus what Elliott might do as a historian. It really highlights for the students the variety of stories you might want to tell or the ways that you can approach material.

Usually, I run these seminars from behind the scenes—the spreadsheets and the scheduling and logistics. But this time I’m deeply involved in creating content and thinking about themes and ideas that will drive the students’ projects.

What is the theme of the course you are currently teaching?

Elliott and I are teaching a class called Writing Migration: Chicago, Haymarket to 1968. This is a class about migration as it’s broadly understood: groups of people coming in and out of Chicago; the migration of goods; the ebb and flow of ideas; the concept of this metropolis growing up as a transportation hub and what that means for its art and its history. The big purpose of the class is to get the students to ask questions that then lead to their individual research projects, which will focus on Chicago in the late 19th century/early 20th century. The forms these projects will take will be as varied as the students and Newberry collections are.

If you were talking to a student who was on the fence, what would you tell them to get them to enroll?

These are great programs, and the students love them. I have reviews from past classes that would knock your socks off. Students have transformational experiences. They say this is the best class they’ve ever taken, that they’ve changed their lives.

In a practical sense, by coming into contact with an institution like the Newberry, undergrads see careers and pathways that they don’t see at their university. And often they come back! Jim Akerman was a student in the ACM program in the 1970s. Alison Hinderliter, Lloyd Lewis Curator of Modern Manuscripts and Archives, was in the program in the 1990s. Alex Teller, Director of Communications, is an NLUS alumnus. Our staff show the students the kind of careers that they might pursue with a humanities degree.

And there is obviously the collection angle—the excitement of holding an actual letter that Hemingway wrote or an actual markup of an in-process poem or the documents of a company like the Pullman Rail Company. That’s huge. That is something that’s so unique to the Newberry and is special for the students. One of the things I’ll say to my students on the first day is that if I went to find my old laptop from 15 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to turn it on. When you think about archiving and you think about what gets lost and what gets kept and how we access history and how we tell stories about the past, there is something amazing about sitting with the materials that have been saved. At the Newberry you can open a book from 1500 the same way you can open the paperback on your nightstand. There are ways that the experience of working with primary materials is lifechanging.

Want to learn more about opportunities for undergraduates at the Newberry? Click here to explore the ACM and NLUS programs.

Read testimonials from ACM and NLUS alumni about their research and internship experiences.

Watch NLUS student research presentations from 2020 and 2021.

This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Winter 2022. In this newsletter, we share with donors exciting stories of the work made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.