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Working on the SPP: Reflections of an RA

What It Means to be a Research Assistant on the Suffrage Postcard Project
by Natalie Bohin, Spring 2017

Overview of Responsibilities
The responsibilities of an RA can include quality control, uploading new postcards, conducting historical academic and cultural context research, and maintaining the Suffrage Postcard Project’s social media platform, Twitter. The primary focus for the Spring 2017 semester RA group was quality control. What does quality control mean for the SPP? For us, this effort consisted of adding or correcting descriptions, obtaining or reformatting sources, and adding tags for a set of postcards. Once a week, our RAs cohort would meet with our graduate student advisor and Dr. Allukian to discuss the reasoning behind our methodology. This aspect of the project is especially rewarding because these meetings are a chance to collaborate with a small group of likeminded students and the ability to work closely with a USF faculty member.

Relationship between Time Commitment, Individual Interests, And Conducting Primary Research as an Undergradute (Yes, there is a relationship!!!)
Typically, an RA commits one to three hours of research each week. However, as an RA for the Suffrage Postcard Project, you are your own boss. Unlike a course where you have hard deadlines, this project allows you to set your own goals. In doing so, you are able to explore your own interests within the Suffrage Movement and the Golden Age of Postcards. For instance, while I was updating and working on quality control for our existing postcards, I became fascinated by the fashion trends represented in the postcards. Many of the anti-suffrage postcards in the archive display women wearing masculinized clothing such as ties, bowler hats, and pantaloons. In contrast, the men wore colorful printed outfits and makeup. After rummaging through various other archives of women and men’s fashion in the early twentieth century, looking at photographs of clothing, and advertisements, I found that there was a correlation between the representation of what both genders wore in the postcards and fashion trends during the Suffrage Movement. Women did begin to wear boxier, more masculinized styles of dresses as well as ties and men began to wear more colorful and printed clothing. Though I would need to do more research, I found the postcards to by hyperbolic depictions of the actual shifts in fashion.

Presenting the Research
Because we are doing primary research, we were eager to share our results with the rest of the USF research community. Another fulfilling facet of the project is the ability to present your research at the University of South Florida’s Research and Arts Colloquium. For the colloquium, our RA cohort worked as a team to design a poster and present on the coalescence of each of our particular research interests. During the Colloquium, coincidently, we were interviewed by English graduate student Bianca Hernandez who interviewed us about our research on the SPP for a podcast project she was conducting for her Digital Humanities graduate course. The podcast was an additional venue through which we were able to share the primary research we had conducted during the semester.