Last year, I got really into going through old newspapers and yearbooks. It started as a blog I was writing for our student newspaper here at Pitt, digging through old issues of the newspaper and retelling some of the stories I found there. Now I’m getting the chance to do a larger version of a similar project — researching World War II-era college newspapers through a Brackenridge Fellowship. I’m looking at newspapers from across Pennsylvania during the early 40s and how they covered the war, specifically looking at the uptick in the number of women running them. Women across the country were stepping into the workforce while men went off to the war, Rosie the Riveter-style, and the same thing was happening on college campuses, where female students started to outnumber male ones for the first time in history.
Like other Brackenridge fellows, I’ll be writing several blog posts about my project over the course of the summer, so this one is just an introduction: Hi! I’m Emily Wolfe, I’m a rising junior at Pitt, and I’m really, really excited to be doing the Brackenridge fellowship this summer. I’m a fiction writing and religious studies major with a French minor, so this project doesn’t align perfectly with the things I’m studying in class — which is one of the things I like about the Brackenridge, and about the Honors College in general. But even though this particular research project is about history and gender, it’s about writing as well: This kind of archival research is really about storytelling for me, and I’m hoping to be able to turn the research I do this summer into an engaging piece of writing at the end of the summer; possibly fiction, possibly nonfiction.
The advisor at Pitt’s student paper, Harry Kloman, who’s also my faculty advisor for this project, likes to repeat this quote about how journalism is the “first rough draft of history.” I love reading old college newspapers because I can drop into a very specific moment in history and see how people my age were thinking about it as it happened. I like reading through old articles, laughing and wincing at how things have changed, or, sometimes, at how they’ve stayed the same. It feels different at this particular moment, doing this research during the most significant historical event I’ve lived through. In 1941, the students putting together the newspapers I’m looking at knew they were living through something that would change the world forever, but they didn’t know how things would change. The same is true right now.