The University of Tulsa’s Helmerich Center for American Research is a little-known resource for students. In a beautiful setting next to the Gilcrease Museum, just a 10-minute drive from the TU campus, the Helmerich Center provides a state-of-the art facility for preservation and study of Thomas Gilcrease’s world-class collection of more than 100,000 rare books, maps, and unpublished documents relating to the Americas from the era of Columbus’ arrival to the 20th century. It also offers an arena for capacious intellectual exchange, hosting short-term fellows, annual symposia, a monthly Works-in-Progress seminar, and other events.
This year, William “Billy” Smith, associate director of the center, teamed up with Don James McLaughlin, assistant professor of English and a Duane King Faculty Fellow, to launch the Cultures of the Americas (COTA) Graduate Fellowship. This program awarded three grants of $500 to TU graduate students to support their research on the Gilcrease holdings and participation in Helmerich Center programming. Fellows were required to pursue at least 20 hours of research in the reading room and attend five Works-in-Progress seminars.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” commented Jeff Drouin, director of graduate studies for English. “I love to see the creative application of resources to foster our graduate students’ research and build intellectual community.” Smith enthusiastically agreed, describing the reciprocal benefits to the students and Helmerich Center: “Working with the fellows over the past year has enriched our community through their presence at our seminars and events and has given us a chance to learn more about their research interests. Connecting TU students to the Gilcrease collections housed here is an important part of our mission as a research center, and I’m delighted that this pilot program has been such a success.”
The 2022-23 COTA Graduate Fellows included two students from the Department of English and Creative Writing, Ciara Graham and Emma Palmer, and one from the Department of Anthropology, Zachary Qualls. Qualls stressed the benefits the new program provided for his research on Cherokee history and culture: “The COTA Fellowship provided a unique opportunity for me as a TU student for support and access to important research tools.” Palmer, who will be joining the doctoral program in English at Vanderbilt University next fall, cited the chance for “hands-on experience performing my own research in an archival setting,” noting, “I learned a lot about how to use the tools available to me and whom to ask for help on how to use them.” She also lauded the WIP seminars as great opportunities for students’ mentoring and professional development: “It was helpful to see the way that academics much further along in their careers think about writing and peek behind the veil of their processes.”
Declared a success by everyone connected with them, the COTA Fellowships will be offered again next year. McLaughlin looks forward to the possibilities these fellowships offer for his students, for the graduate program, and for the center. “It has been a privilege to provide support for graduate students doing exemplary research at The University of Tulsa and to get to know them better as active participants at the Helmerich Center for American Research. Our community is growing, and our conversations have been elevated this year by an interdisciplinary array of perspectives,” he said.
Visit the Helmerich Center for American Research online to learn more about its holdings and programming.