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Discovery by design

Chrissy Hicks ’20 with Medieval music manuscripts in Furman Special Collections and Archives

As Chrissy Hicks ’20 clicked play on her laptop, music that has not been heard for centuries filled the quiet study area in Furman’s Special Collections. The product of ten weeks of meticulous study and transcription, Hicks brought these original Medieval music manuscripts back to life.

Her project is part of the Special Collections and Archives Research and Creative Fellowships established this year with a gift from Furman alumna and retired librarian Carolyn Warden ’67 and her husband and retired chemistry professor Joseph Warden ’68.

The ten-week program allows students to perform original research using materials in Furman’s Special Collections and Archives for a research or a creative project of the student’s own design. And, like many of the opportunities provided by The Furman Advantage, the goal is that fellows will blend their interests, skills, and curiosity to not only explore their fields of study, but also use their discoveries to create something new—knowledge, art, or music.

A closeup of one of the ornate manuscripts that Hicks transcribed.

A future music major, cellist, and classicist from Bluffton, South Carolina, Hicks applied for the fellowship hoping to learn more about the background of manuscript production, discover the uses of Medieval written music, and expand what we know about them.

“We have eight manuscripts, and I’ve been transcribing them into modern day music notations so that people who aren’t familiar with the square notation, or “neume,” that they were written in can either look at the transcription and be able to see what the music sounds like or listen to the audio files I am creating,” says Hicks.

Hicks initially worked with Thomas Hendrickson, visiting professor in the Department of Classics, to craft her research proposal, and Assistant Professor of Musicology Laura Kennedy has been her mentor and sounding board throughout the summer.

“Before I started this project, I had no idea how to read a square music notation and I’d never actually handled a manuscript before, so there was a steep learning curve there that I had to get over. But, I think the biggest takeaway for me is realizing that I could learn it. You don’t have to have a doctorate in order to be able to work with stuff like this . . . a rising sophomore is actually capable of doing research and finding new things,” says Hicks.

And finding new things in remnants of the past is exactly what another summer fellow Emory Conetta ’18 set out to do. A studio art and art history double major, Conetta became interested in embroidery and its place in women’s history. She imagined how embroidery, as the medium for her senior show, could present the evolution of women’s issues in an unexpected way. When she found out about the opportunity in Special Collections, she began working with her faculty sponsor and mentor Sarah Archino, assistant professor of art, to develop a research topic.

Emory Conetta ’18 explored scrapbooks and yearbooks from Greenville Woman’s College students.

She pitched the idea to Special Collections Librarian & University Archivist Jeffrey Makala, and he suggested an exploration of the scrapbooks created by students of the Greenville Woman’s College in the early 20th century, the golden age of scrap booking for college students.

“The way womens’ lives are presented in the scrapbook is very different than how they are presented in the yearbook . . . the scrapbook is just pieces of paper that these women bound together. There are women who are very outspoken about their rights . . .  back in 1909, which I didn’t expect,” says Conetta.

She observed the nuances of life during times of war, the relationship dynamics represented by a napkin from a dance or a note from a suitor, and the determination of women who were well ahead of their time, focused on career instead of domestic duties.

“Tying this back into my senior show, I plan to take either phrases or specific words for images from the scrapbooks and from the yearbooks that stood out to me as either different from gender roles now or things that are oddly similar that you wouldn’t think are from 1918 and are still expected from women today,” she says.

Both fellows will present their research at FurmanEngaged!, the university’s celebration of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creativity. They will also present their work at a public program sponsored by the Friends of the Furman University Libraries on Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. on the second floor of Duke Library. Hicks hopes to find a vocalist to perform one of her transcriptions, and Conetta will use her findings to create her senior show and is making her own scrapbook in response to her discoveries.

Conetta was especially intrigued with a scrapbook compiled by Zadee Shuler ’29 because she wasn’t confined to a scrapbook layout and filled her scrapbook with hundreds of pictures and memorabilia from her time at the college and beyond.

“Each piece, each outfit in my senior show is going to represent a different sphere of my life. One is going to be education, and I plan to use the Greenville Woman’s College motto, “palma non sine pulvere,” a Latin phrase meaning “rewards not without dirt.” What that means to me is, as women, we still have to have the determination to work so much harder to achieve education and equal treatment in our pursuits,” Conetta says.


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