Summer Centered: Abby Cox ’18 Brings Archival Skills to Oklahoma
The English major is exploring issues of class and race, working in the archives and special collections at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.
Woody Guthrie was an icon of mid-20th century folk music, and his writing’s mediations on American class and race remain relevant today. This summer, Abby Cox ’18 is aiding the mission of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., which educates the public about the esteemed singer-songwriter’s mission of social justice and activism, by interning in its Archives and Special Collections. Cox’s internship is sponsored by both the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for Arts and Humanities.
Cox is processing archival materials and cataloging existing collections to make them more accessible to researchers. She even got the opportunity to help organize an exhibit. Her position gives her the opportunity to handle a diverse collection of donated materials related to Guthrie and other artists he worked with.
“The coolest part is being able to see and handle so many original materials that Guthrie wrote,” said Cox, an English major and Spanish minor. “He has incredibly extensive song lyrics and drawings, and it's exciting to get to look at and hold these, and to have a say in what gets to be put on exhibit.”
Cox first developed an interest in Woody Guthrie in “Topics in American Literature: The Construction of Whiteness in Precarious Times,” taught by Associate Professor of English Gustavus Stadler last Fall. After reading Guthrie’s autobiography in that class, Cox developed a project about him as a representative of a radicalized white, lower-class culture. Stadler had visited the Woody Guthrie Center to research for his upcoming book about the musician, and recommended that Cox apply for an internship.
“I think that Guthrie is a fascinating figure who enables us to understand much about the current social and political climate through his work, and I wanted to come to the Center to see how they continued that work in the current moment,” said Cox.
A native of Pittsburgh, Cox is staying in Tulsa for the first time. Last summer, she worked for the University of Pennsylvania's Early Novels Database, where she helped build a digital catalog for early 18th-century novels. Applying the archival skills she honed in that position to a new environment has added intrigue to her internship that goes beyond her work.
“Mostly, it's been interesting to work at an organization that has a fairly liberal and radical subject matter at its focus, in the figure of Woody Guthrie, while living in a city and state that's quite conservative, in a way that's more apparent than somewhere like Pennsylvania,” she said.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.