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The Learning Lab Internship is an opportunity to dream big, think outside the box, and recast the remnants of the past into new and transformational insights. Interns work with collections that are teeming with possibility and full of surprises, from unpublished manuscripts, unprocessed court records, and long-lost letters to prescription books, meeting minutes, art objects, and countless more. You may discover the lost chapter of a philosopher’s book on travel, shed new light on a 100-year-old murder case, or find inspiration from the successes and struggles of activists, reformers, and individuals across the history of Kentucky, the United States, and the world.

Whatever collection you choose to work with, you are certain to come face to face with incredible, one-of-a-kind artifacts that both challenge and inspire. Our archives touch on all disciplines, and reward interdisciplinary approaches to research. Interns have completed projects in and across the humanities, social sciences, health sciences, environmental sciences, art history, economics, and many other fields. 

Below, you can find past projects that highlight the full range of possibilities available in the Learning Lab, and see the amazing insights and life-changing discoveries that reward the curiosity, dedication, and teamwork that define our interns.

Visit our online gallery to browse all the projects completed by our 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Learning Lab cohorts.

Several drawings from the John A. Spelman III papers arranged on a table

Leslie Philips’ project “Sketches of a Community” uses drawings from the John A. Spelman III papers to explore the collision of cultures at the progressive Pine Mountain Settlement School in the late 1930s.

Bringing the Past to Life

A Lost Chapter

Dealla Samadi’s Learning Lab project centered on a diary believed to be the work of the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Written in Rome in 1951, it had rested untouched in a box in the Special Collections Research Center for 67 years before Dealla began her project. Following a painstaking process of transcribing and translating the journal, Dealla consulted with Sartre scholars from around the world to confirm its authorship and determine where it fit within the philosopher’s body of work. Remarkably, Dealla discovered that she had uncovered the missing first chapter of Sartre’s posthumously published book, La Reine Albemarle, changing the way scholars interpret the book and shedding new light on Sartre’s life and work.

Following her Learning Lab experience, and with the support of the Office of Undergraduate Research, Dealla took a trip to Rome, where she retraced the steps the philosopher had taken decades earlier. Following in his footsteps, Dealla says, was a profoundly human experience: 

“Sartre's Italian journey became part of my own memory and experience. I became the object that bends time, connecting past, present, and future with every step and breath I took. I was a time traveler, not confined to the year 2018. I had all of this expansive history behind me and in every moment, I was coalescing a philosopher’s words with my thoughts and my movements.”

Follow Dealla on her journey across Rome and learn more about her Learning Lab experience by visiting her digital humanities project, “Uncovering Sartre: Analysis of an Unpublished Journal.”

Handwritten manuscript of Jean-Paul Sartre

Dealla Samadi's transcription notes above Jean-Paul Sartre's notoriously difficult handwriting.

Incarcerated Women: Resilience and Reform

Laura M. Cuevas Melendez utilized the Kate Black social activism papers to follow the journey of two women incarcerated in the Federal Medical Center, a federal prison in Lexington.

Laura Whitehorn, a member of the Weather Underground, and Silvia Baraldini, a member of the Black Liberation Army who took part in the prison break of Assata Shakur, were political prisoners subjected to harsh and dehumanizing disciplinary tactics, including solitary confinement. Laura’s project follows these women’s attempts to maintain their humanity and build solidarity with fellow prisoners through activism. Whitehorn was especially active in establishing peer advocacy groups that provided emotional and social support to prisoners with HIV/AIDS. The work of both prisoners led to the reform of incarceration tactics, including shutting down the High Security Unit at the Federal Medical Center, thereby ending the practice of solitary confinement.

“Working this past year with my collection and the archives allowed me to reflect on our past and start thinking how I want the future to look like and what I can do to make that a possibility. These women, along with other activists, paved the way for my generation. Now it’s my turn to do the same for the following generations.”

Find out more about Laura’s project, “Building From Within: How Two Female Prisoners Survived Incarceration.”

A hand-written letter to Kate Black from Silvia Baraldini

A letter from Silvia Baraldini to Kate Black concerning AIDS activism at the Federal Medical Center, Lexington.

A New Health Care Model

Humza Anwar, a biology major, was drawn to the unprocessed collection of meeting minutes, financial records, newsletters, and patient care guidelines of the Hunter Foundation for Health Care, the first nonprofit health maintenance organization in Kentucky. Operating in Lexington from 1968 to 1972, the Hunter Foundation established a primary care clinic and provided outreach to low-income and uninsured individuals and families across some of Central Kentucky’s poorest neighborhoods.

Humza used census data to examine the current landscape of healthcare inequalities in Lexington, and discovered that the problems the Hunter Foundation set out to address have become even worse in the intervening decades. Humza set out to develop a novel health care delivery model that could address health disparities and inequalities across the United States, drawing on lessons from the successes and failures of the Hunter Foundation. 

Through his archival work, Humza found inspiration for a framework and conceptual model for a community-based healthcare delivery system that addresses funding issues and promotes equitable healthcare outcomes. Learn more about his project, “Creating a Novel Healthcare Delivery Model to Address Social and Health Disparities in Lexington, Kentucky.”

Hand-drawn title page to the Let's Keep Well Book

Patient guideline materials provided to Lexington families by the Hunter Foundation.

Saving the Red River

“Reflecting on this journey, I am filled with pride at the thought of, ‘Wow, I did this.’”

An environmental activist and avid outdoor recreationalist, Claire Hilbrecht was drawn to the Cathy Wilson collection on the Red River Gorge, a treasure trove of correspondence, newspaper clippings, court filings, and activist reports concerning the Red River Gorge Dam Controversy of the 1960s and 1970s.

A unique erosional feature known for its incredible biodiversity, the Gorge is an important site to botanists, ecologists, geologists, and lovers of the great outdoors. In 1962, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to construct a dam that would have transformed the Gorge into a large lake, destroying its geological and ecological features. In a decades-long effort to save the Gorge, conservationists and activists teamed with prominent public figures to draw national media attention to the controversy and eventually succeeded in halting the project. In 1993, the Clinton administration added the Red River to the National Wild and Scenic River system, assuring its long-term protection under federal law.

Claire’s project carefully tracks the strategies of these conservationists and uncovers the sources of their success, always with an eye toward repurposing them to meet contemporary environmental concerns, including the proposed construction of a 900-acre destination resort that once again threatens the Gorge. Find out more about her project, “‘Save our Red River’: A Historical Analysis of the Methods Used by Environmentalists to Preserve the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.”

Clouds, pine trees, and cliffs of the Red River Gorge at sunset

View from Cloud Splitter in the Red River Gorge.

Claire Hilbrecht

Illuminating a Fight for Justice

For her Learning Lab project, Olivia Morris-Bush analyzed letters written by Thomas D. Redd, a Black brakeman from Louisville who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The letters, written between 1919 and 1934, describe intense workplace racism and document pay and promotion inequality, employment discrimination, and lack of basic resources for Black workers. Olivia’s project explores the way Black workers navigated, interpreted, and responded to this unequal treatment.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act, without legal recourse to fight discriminatory practices, Black workers found strength in unions. Olivia’s research illustrates the way that Redd, an outspoken advocate of workplace rights, fought tirelessly for workplace equity through his leadership in railroad workers’ unions, including the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen, which he co-founded.

Olivia’s research shines a light on the long and hard-fought pursuit of equity and justice, and shows how the efforts of people like Thomas Redd laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement and continue to empower social activists today. Her research demonstrates the persistence of the workplace as a racialized and gendered site of struggle, and uses lessons from the past to contextualize and inform the ongoing fight. Learn more about Olivia’s project, “Crossways: the Intersection Between Racialized Railroads and Racial Equity in the Workplace.”

Handwritten letter from 1911

Letter from Thomas D. Redd to Charles H. Markham citing discrimination faced by Black workers.

Medieval Fragmentology

Alyssa Mertka’s research centers on a manuscript from the Special Collection Research Center’s rare books collection: a 15th century Book of Hours, beautifully illuminated with floral designs, miniatures, and silver and gold accents, and used by an Italian monastic community to conduct their daily prayers. Alyssa did not focus on the book as a whole, however, but on an unexpected detail that had been overlooked by other scholars.

Curiously, the book’s front flyleaf and pastedown differ in handwriting, vellum quality, and orientation from the rest of the book. Medieval scriptoriums, in which texts like the Book of Hours were produced by hand, frequently repurposed older texts during the book binding process, leaving behind fragments such as the one Alyssa found in the Book of Hours. The study of these fragments, known as “fragmentology,” can shed light on the history of the book, and in some instances even uncover the presence of an otherwise lost text.

Alyssa’s research set out to identify the provenance of this stray fragment. After transcribing and translating the fragment, Alyssa discovered that it came from a biblical commentary authored by St. Jerome between 317 and 319 AD. In consultation with rare book specialists, Alyssa determined that the fragment was a copy of this commentary produced in a monastic scriptorium between 1175 and 1200 AD, probably in Northern Italy. Alyssa hypothesizes that the fragment was produced at the Pomposa Abbey near Ferrara, Italy, a Benedictine monastery noted for its scriptorium and library. Through her research, Alyssa has added considerable richness and depth to the history of a remarkable object and helped to determine where the Book of Hours was likely bound.

Read Alyssa’s account of her detective work in the October 2018 Midwest Archives Conference Newsletter (PDF).

Medieval manuscript page with Latin text

The mysterious front flyleaf and pastedown of the Book of Hours.

Elizabeth Massie reflects on her Learning Lab experience researching the women's suffrage movement using the Laura Clay papers.

Become a Learning Lab Intern

Applications for the Learning Lab Internship are accepted in the Spring. 

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