Summer Centered: Becca Matson Dives Into the Archives
Becca Matson ’22 is working with digital and physical archives this summer as a summer programs assistant at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
This summer Becca Matson ’22, a history major with visual studies and gender and sexuality studies minors, is working for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) as a summer programs assistant. The opportunity is sponsored by the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities.
“As a history major from Pennsylvania, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania naturally interested me from the very beginning,” said Matson. “This internship perfectly combines my love of history and the visual in a way that allows me to both expand my historical knowledge and marketing skills.”
One of her projects has been collaborating with HSP’s marketing and communications team to tie history to the present day. Matson goes through their physical and digital collections to research and select historical records, images, books, and other media that relate to current events, major historical anniversaries, or our present moment. The connections she finds are then shared on HSP’s social media.
On “Foodie Fridays” Matson has featured historical recipes and adapted them to modern-day cooking ingredients and techniques. Before the 4th of July long weekend she shared a recipe for apple pudding from “The First American Cookbook” written by Amelia Simmons in 1796, just twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
As a part of their Pride Month features in June, Matson featured two Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Political Action (PA-GALA) pamphlets from 1997 and 1998. The election pamphlets profile candidates' positions on issues affecting gay men and lesbians and include whether they were endorsed or not by the PA-GALA.
“My goal in this process is to tie history to the present day, making connections across time and space to highlight HSP’s expansive collections,” she said.
Maton’s interest in historical archives began during her Hurford Center fellowship last summer. As an undergraduate research fellow, she and her partner researched ways to deconstruct power dynamics in historical archives by centering counter-narratives.
“This project sparked my enthusiasm for history, archives, and constructing stories,” she said. “Then, after taking Professor Graham’s course this past spring, ‘Historical Methods Lab: Archive Theory and Practice’, I wanted to pursue my passion for historical archives this summer as well.”
After only working in digital archives in her research last summer and in “Historical Methods Lab,” Matson was particularly excited to travel into Philadelphia a few times to work in HSP’s archives on Locust Street.
“I have learned that digging through archives is not a simple and fast-paced process, but instead takes extreme patience, time, and care,” she said. “Although handling old documents may be nerve-racking at times, the reward and feeling that comes from discovering new knowledge in the archive is immeasurable.”
The lessons she learns from the archives this summer will help Matson as she explores archives around the United States for her senior thesis next year.
“I will be looking at the changing notion of American women’s beauty over the course of the 20th century, expanding on a research paper I wrote last fall, titled ‘Cosmetic Surgery’s Physical Inscription of Whiteness as Capital,’ which sought to understand how cosmetic surgery works as a political technology of the state to inscribe, racialize, engender, and embed power and capital onto faces.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-funded summer work.