Fondren Library Research Awards honor 6 Rice students

Six Rice scholars have received a rare reward for research they completed last semester: cold, hard cash. The prizes were conferred during the 10th annual Fondren Library Research Awards luncheon March 9, where five of the students gave short presentations to the Friends of Fondren Library Board of Directors outlining their winning papers and how Fondren Library helped their work.

Mary Lowery, executive director of the Friends of Fondren Library, introduces four of the winning students at the March 9 awards luncheon: John Murphy, Rebecca Godard, Meagan Wright and Adrienne Rooney (L to R).

Mary Lowery, executive director of the Friends of Fondren Library, introduces four of the winning students at the March 9 awards luncheon: John Murphy, Rebecca Godard, Meagan Wright and Adrienne Rooney (L to R).

The awards recognize student projects that demonstrate “extraordinary skill and creativity” in using the library’s resources for original scholarship. To enter, students submit a research project finished in the past year, supplemented by a 1,000-word essay explaining how they used Fondren’s resources. The winners are chosen by the University Committee on the Library and a representative from the Friends of Fondren Library board.

Of the six winning projects, four examined the black experience in America, a coincidence the students chalked up to Rice’s efforts in preserving, documenting and promoting African-American history.

“Part of it is the available courses and the faculty who are dealing with these topics, like Dr. Alexander Byrd,” said Adrienne Rooney, a Ph.D. student in art history. Byrd, an associate professor of history, teaches Rice’s Race, Education and Society in the Urban South course, which Rooney completed last semester along with fellow award-winner Rebecca Godard, a Sid Richardson junior majoring in psychology.

“I also think the celebration of 50 years of black undergraduate life at Rice was a really influential thing in terms of raising awareness and providing access to resources and research,” said Godard, referring to Rice’s yearlong celebration in 2016.

Godard won first place ($500) in the undergraduate category for a paper titled “I See How You Got In: African-American Women on Rice University Women’s Sports Teams.” She interviewed many of Rice’s earliest black female athletes and spent hours poring over archives that included desk files from the Academic Advising office and photos from the Athletics Department.

“When we look at female athletes, we tend to assume they’re a homogenous group, and we don’t look at the way race impacts them,” Godard said. “That group is a really unique category that’s often overlooked in research.”

Godard credited Rice Centennial Historian Melissa Kean and archivist librarian Norie Guthrie with helping her dig through boxes and parse their contents. “As far as I know, this is the first research into this specific area of Rice history,” Godard said. “Fondren was really instrumental in helping me explore something nobody had really looked at before.”

John Murphy, a second-semester graduate student in architecture, employed Fondren’s resources to report on another under-researched figure: John Chase, the first African-American architect to be licensed in Texas. Though he hailed from Maryland, Chase’s work in Houston cemented his legacy: Much of the Texas Southern University campus, hundreds of Bayou City homes and churches and the George R. Brown Convention Center are all to his credit.

And yet there is very little scholastic work about him, said Murphy, who won first place ($500) in the graduate category for his paper, “John Saunders Chase: The Politics of a Black Architect in Postwar Houston.” “There are a couple of articles from Cite, a publication from the Rice Design Alliance, but he’s an understudied figure architecturally,” Murphy said. He began his research into Chase in the architecture section of the Brown Fine Arts Library but quickly found himself interested in Chase’s work away from the drafting table.

“I had started the paper wanting to write a more architectural history and then I ended up writing a more political biography of Mr. Chase and his political leanings and operations,” said Murphy, who undertook the project as part of his Methods in U.S. Cultural History course, a graduate research and writing seminar taught by Caleb McDaniel and Fay Yarbrough, associate professors of history. Murphy cited the Woodson Research Center as particularly helpful when leaning into Houston’s political and social movements of the 1970s, especially its archival copy of the 1987 documentary about the Riverside Terrace neighborhood titled “This Is Our Home, It Is Not for Sale.”

Another film figured prominently in Adrienne Rooney’s paper, “Seeing Opposite: The Battle of Algiers and ‘Colonial Analogy’ in the ‘Panther 21,’” for which she won second place ($300) in the graduate category. Rooney’s interest in a 46-year-old court case in New York was sparked by learning that “The Battle of Algiers” was screened for jury members at the trial of 21 members of the Black Panther Party in 1972 — at the time, the longest and costliest Supreme Court case in New York’s history.

“I was just completely baffled by the fact that a film was shown in a legal case as evidence, and having been raised by a lawyer, I wanted to investigate what that meant and if there was a precedent for that,” Rooney said. “What Fondren allowed me to do was dig back into newspaper archives, both white newspapers and the black press in the 1960s and 1970s, to see how this film circulated in the United States, what it was used for and how it motivated people in the press to respond in certain ways.”

Even more baffling, Rooney said, was discovering the Italian film’s impact on the American jurors. “It was supposed to be used against members of the Black Panther Party and instead it gave them a lot more sympathy in the eyes of the jury,” Rooney said. “That was really interesting and I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful newspaper archives that Fondren has access to.”

Rooney also credited Fondren’s government documents and data specialist, Kevin Markowski, a lawyer who helped the art historian navigate U.S. case law and filings, and the library’s immense collection. “I located books on the Black Panther Party and, miraculously, I found books in the 1970s that had been written on this case specifically, which I was shocked and thrilled by,” she said.

Megan Wright, a first-year master’s student in viola performance at the Shepherd School of Music, was similarly shocked to find that Fondren held research materials for her decidedly niche topic, “Josquin des Prez’s Motet Qui velatus facie and the Canonization of St. Bonaventure in 1482,” the paper she completed in the spring semester of 2017 prior to graduation, for which she won second place ($300) in the undergraduate category. “I produced a musicology thesis under (Associate Professor of Musicology) Dr. Peter Loewen and my thesis proposed a connection between the 1482 canonization ceremony of St. Bonaventure and a motet by the Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez,” Wright said.

“What’s the big deal with this?” Wright said with a laugh during her presentation. “In musicology, Josquin des Prez is one of the kings of the Renaissance, but unfortunately much of the biographical information of his life is totally shrouded in obscurity. There were dark periods in his timeline where nobody knew where he was, so I thought, ‘I want to tackle these.’ The evidence I unearthed connecting Josquin’s motet with Bonaventure’s canonization placed him in Rome during one of these dark periods.”

The research Wright undertook for her thesis crossed disciplines — art history, history of the Catholic church, musicology, music theory — and found her spending hours in the Brown Fine Arts Library, where she used scores of des Prez’s work and motets and cross-referenced many of the composer’s biographies. “And, of course, I used plenty of the electronic resources in the Digital Media Commons to make copies of the scores and take notes on them, which proved very valuable when I presented at the O’Brien Medieval and Early Modern Studies Undergraduate Student Conference last semester.”

Duncan College freshman Mikayla Knutson rounded out the undergraduate category, receiving honorable mention ($200) for her project, “Recovery of Post-Civil War Vicksburg, Mississippi.” The project was completed for a course in Spatial History and Historical GIS, taught by graduate student Sheridan Kennedy, a doctoral candidate in the history department. Deviating from the standard research paper, Knutson used the Geographic Information Systems (GIS)/Data Center to map quantitative data such as tax records and property appreciation values over time to discover the lasting economic impact of the long siege of Vicksburg.

“I wanted to see if two similar socio-economic areas that were hit differently ended up having different outcomes 20 or 50 years after the Civil War and even until today,” Knutson said. “Unfortunately, what I found out when I started putting the data into GIS is that the parts of the city that were hit longest and hardest were the parts that were already the poorest, which made it more difficult to do the analysis I wanted to do.”

Knutson said she spent more hours than she’d like to admit in the basement GIS lab, while Saturday and Sunday nights were spent on the first floor of Fondren patiently poring over pages of scholarly work on the Civil War and Reconstruction. “I felt a sense of pride when I had walked around the library twice one night and they asked if I wanted a bag because I’d taken out so many books,” Knutson said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure I checked out every book on Civil War Vicksburg there could possibly be at Fondren.”

History graduate student Kyle Myers received honorable mention ($200) in the graduate category for his paper, “Visions of Complete Mastery and Subtle Tyranny West Indian Lessons on Self-Provisioning in the Age of Abolition 1804-1860.” In his essay for the awards competition, Myers credited the library research guides for helping him sort through Fondren’s vast catalog for his paper, which was also completed for McDaniel and Yarbrough’s graduate course, Methods in U.S. Cultural History.

“Much of historical research is a process of eliminating what is not useful for our work,” Myers wrote. “The research guides were a great way to start the process of creating a manageable source-base from the millions upon millions of volumes available in digital and traditional formats here at Rice.” He was unable to give a presentation about his research at the awards luncheon, due to a conflict with his class schedule.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.