Omohundro Institute

Scholarly Community: Why You Should Participate

This month, I’m sponsoring 10 graduate students as Omohundro Institute Associates. As an OI Associate you will receive a paper copy of the William and Mary Quarterly, a 20 percent discount on OI and UNCPress books, and invitations to OI seminars, conferences, and our not-to-be-missed AHA and OAH receptions. But MOST importantly, you will gain access to one of the best scholarly communities in the world.

In 2004, my undergraduate mentor and advisor, William Pencak, introduced me to my first scholarly community. He told me that as a historian I should have twin goals in my career: produce high-quality work the field can benefit from and be a good, collaborative colleague. He told me being an active member of the larger scholarly community would help me achieve both goals. He then sponsored my first conference paper and my first membership to a professional organization to introduce me to this broader community. 

Bill Pencak was a generous colleague who gave this advice to many of his students and modeled it so we could follow his example. Bill’s advice stands among the best professional advice I’ve ever received and it has played a big and crucial role in my career. The scholarly community Bill introduced me to through my first professional organization membership has provided me with more knowledge about our early American past and has given me opportunities to build my professional network. It’s a network that has come in handy so many times over the years. The people within it have helped me as a graduate student, as an independent scholar in search of a place within the profession, and as a working historian once I found my place. 

In fact, my journey to the Omohundro Institute started because Bill Pencak introduced me to the importance of scholarly community. In 2007, I briefly met another scholar at a conference. This short encounter proved to be enough that I felt comfortable talking to this person when we met again in different venues in 2012 and 2013. And because I had conversed with this person in 2012 and 2013, I felt I could reach out with a request for real assistance when Ben Franklin’s World started to take off and I needed to know how to transform it from a hobby into a professional publication. This professional connection came from my active membership in a scholarly community and it led me to the Omohundro Institute in 2014.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with the rest of my story, the people of the Omohundro Institute generously agreed to share their knowledge with me on what it takes to build a professional publication. They also further offered to help me implement and adapt their advice in ways that worked for my project. Today, Ben Franklin’s World stands as the reigning best history podcast, a podcast that performs in the top 7 percent of all podcasts, and as a publication that is achieving its goal to make great scholarly history available to people outside of the profession. 

All of this success happened because of a chance meeting I made while taking Bill’s advice to become an active member of the scholarly community.

My intent with this drive is twofold: First, I want to pay back Bill’s kindness and honor his memory; Bill passed away in 2013. My hope is that if I introduce you to the Omohundro Institute’s scholarly community you will do what Bill gave me the opportunity to do: read its journal, share your ideas at its conferences, attend its receptions, and work on building your professional network. 

My second goal is quite selfish: I want you to join my primary scholarly community because it benefits me and my colleagues. Many of the great ideas we get for new projects and how we can improve and expand our current projects come from OI Associates. So, I want to hear about your ideas at our conferences and meet you at our receptions. I want you to enjoy the ideas and examples of high-quality work the OI publishes because they will help you generate more ideas. Ultimately, I want to introduce you to this community because I think once you join us, you will stick around for the remainder of your career and help us with our mission to support the production of high-quality scholarship and to get that scholarship out into the world where it can be useful. 

So, if you are a graduate student and would like to join the OI community as an Associate, I will sponsor your membership. Send me an e-mail. Please tell me who you are, what you are working on, which graduate program you are affiliated with, and where the OI can mail your WMQ.

Ben Franklin's World Partners with Omohundro Institute

Ben Franklin's World has its first sponsor and partner: The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture! Together we are producing "Doing History," a 12-episode series that will answer listener questions about the work historians do and serve as an educational resource for those who teach history.

I am really excited about this series and to work with the folks at the OI.

You can read the official announcement on the Omohundro Institute website.

bfworld-oi partners

Historian  SOS

The partnership between the Omohundro Institute and Ben Franklin's World came about because I asked for help.

When I launched Ben Franklin's World in October 2014, I thought I had considered every aspect of the show: I knew how I would record the show; why I would hire a sound engineer; why I would host my audio files with Libsyn instead of Soundcloud; how long my episodes would be; why my in-show music would be Bach; why my website had to be designed to host a podcast; and why I wanted to call the show Ben Franklin's World.

What I never considered was what I would do when the show became successful:

  • How do I choose books to feature on the show when everything publishers send would appeal to my listeners?
  • What should I say to those with unrelated services or products who wanted to sponsor Ben Franklin's World or who invited the show to join their non-history podcast network?
  • And the most scary (for me) aspect of all: How do I say "no" to colleagues I can't feature on the show?

All of these scenarios came up and they began to appear in April 2015, six months after launch.


The Omohundro Institute: A Resource for Historians

At first, I handled these situations by not handling them. I sent ambiguous replies to all queries because I had no idea what to do. There was no "History Business" course in grad school and the advice my fellow podcasters gave never seemed to fit my situation.

In June, it occurred to me that I should reach out to the only historian who I had ever heard speak about the business side of the profession: Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institute.

At the time, my e-mail to Karin felt like a "Hail Mary" pass. Our interactions consisted of my asking questions at three talks she gave in Boston between 2011 and 2012. I knew her leadership position at the OI kept her busy. But, I also knew that if anyone could answer my questions it would be her or someone from her organization.

Karin answered my e-mail within a few days. She was familiar with Ben Franklin's World and eager to share her knowledge about the business side of the historical profession.

Our conversations turned into an invitation to visit the Omohundro Institute in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over two days, I exchanged questions, ideas, workflows, and processes with Institute historians and staff. Essentially, they provided me with crash course in how to operate a media business within the world of scholarly history.

My visit and talks with the OI also proved enlightening. I knew the Institute published well-researched early American history books and The William and Mary Quarterly. I also knew they offered a two-year postdoc. But, I did not know the full-scale of the resources the Institute offers early American history scholars: colloquia, non-dissertation fellowships and support, and workshops.


The Partnership

In late November, Karin inquired whether a sponsorship/partnership between the Omohundro Institute and Ben Franklin's World would be possible. The venture would allow me to make use of Institute knowledge and resources, the Institute to introduce its role in early American scholarship to my audience, and for us both to produce a valuable educational resource that will communicate what historians do and how we do it to the world.

"Doing History" with the Omohundro Institute in this way made sense. We are going to create and provide value to my audience, educators, and the profession.

I am really excited to partner with them and I can't wait to share the episodes we produce over the next twelve months.

The Doing History series launches on Tuesday, January 26, 2016. You can check it out by visiting the Ben Franklin's World website or the Doing History page on the OI website.