So, there I was: a freshman, recently switched majors, still incredibly fickle, and still holding onto that glimmer of unjaded hope freshmen seem to have. I thought it would be hard to find a research project as an English major; I had only completed one English course up to that point, and I had spent my high school career learning research was for the sciences. However, I was wrong. Almost as soon as I sought out a research project, I found one — or really — it found me. Dr. Sara Schwebel had sent out a request to the Office of Undergraduate Research for one more undergrad to join her team, and luckily I was the first one to stumble upon it. After a meeting with Dr. Schwebel to learn about more about the project and my goals, I was on board.

So, here I am now: a sophomore, decidedly an English and History double major, still incredibly fickle, and yet still somehow holding onto that glimmer of unjaded hope. I have been working with Dr. Schwebel and the rest of the research team for almost a year now. The project centers on the story of a young Nicolena woman who lived on the remote San Nicolas Island from 1835 until 1853. The story of this woman's life is long and complicated, but even more complicated by the mystery, distortion, appropriation, and fascination surrounding it. Although there are countless accounts that have been made about the woman, she has been immortalized in the children’s novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Dr. Schwebel, along with other faculty, graduates, and undergraduates, has spent years compiling documents (e.g. newspapers, books, etc.) relevant to the story, and has used them to create a digital archive. Rose focused on research

So, what have I been working on specifically? For my first two semesters on the project, my research entailed document encoding, and I am currently working on historical write-ups. Document encoding was a process where I would go through the naked text of a document (for example, a newspaper article) and tag specific words and tropes in the text, as well as format the text for the web-page. In short, this helped make documents archive-ready. The encoding I worked on was in part so historical write-ups could be integrated into the archive. The write-ups are brief descriptions of any person, place, or ship that happens to appear within a document. For example, when someone goes to the archive and clicks on a word describing a place, a description of that place will appear. This part of the research has been especially insightful and engaging to me — trying to describe the history of a person or place in just a couple sentences requires both some serious revision and researching skills. However, my favorite part of research has definitely been being a part of a team. I have gotten to meet with a large team of undergraduates and talk about our work. I also have worked with the project’s graduate student (coordinator, glue of the team, mentor, etc.), Rachel Manuszak, who taught me the process of document encoding. Dr. Schwebel, who has taken so much time to meet with me and the rest of the team, has been an amazing mentor with nothing but encouragement and feedback that I know will follow me through my academic career. This last bit has turned into a bit of weird love letter to my team, but that is what has been the highlight my research experience.

Check out the The Lone Woman and Last Indians Digital Archive​ here.

-Rose Steptoe

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