Hunting for history in beautiful places: Mishra receives prestigious fellowship at the Huntington Library
Stacks of books stand upright, pressed against one another like strangers on a railway car. Inklings of dust can be seen on the tops of some; others have never had their spines cracked, and while these might seem like accepted features of any ordinary library, these particular books are unique because they belong to the Huntington Library, one of the most respected academic libraries in the nation. Among the books, dust and countless archival records sits Assistant Professor of History Rupali Mishra, patiently thumbing through the records of the British East India Company. Dr. Mishra’s research at the library for the 2013-2014 academic year has been funded by one of only two Barbara Thom Post-Doctoral Research Fellowships competitively awarded to junior faculty for research in the library’s collections.
Dr. Mishra applied for the fellowship after determining that the library had valuable resources pertaining to her research on the British East India Company’s (EIC) operations in the early seventeenth century. Her current project examines the multifaceted nature of the EIC as a political body during the early Stuart period, and details how the company operated internally and responded to external crises, which helped shape the way individuals came to understand politics and representative democracy during the early Stuart period. Mishra argues that citizens framed their conceptions of how such a representative system should operate through the lens of EIC debates about voting, membership, and managing factions. The EIC helped reinforce these notions by responding to external crises in which company leaders often negotiated with the monarch, the privy council, and parliament when making business decisions that, at times, conflicted with state interests.
“One of the hardest resources to come by during the academic year is unbroken time to devote to writing,” Mishra said. “The Huntingdon Fellowship has given me the opportunity to devote substantive time to that aspect of my academic life.” It has also, according to Mishra, given her “the incredible opportunity to engage with other scholars who are also researching at the library, from whom my own work is continually benefiting” Outside of the classroom, the library’s location in southern California has afforded Dr. Mishra a warm climate and beautiful locale where she can to explore the countryside. Hiking trails abound near her apartment, which sits at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and often allows her to see the multitudes of brown bears that inhabit the region. The library itself houses a botanical garden spanning several acres that Mishra has admitted to traversing on more than one occasion for perspective and solace away from the stacks of company records.
Dr. Mishra characterized researching a library and its collections in sufficient detail to make a compelling argument for why its collections are imperative for one’s research as the most difficult, but essential aspect of the fellowship writing process. Mishra advised that those with an interest in applying for such fellowships should try as hard as possible to find a detailed list of the sources available well in advance of the application deadline. They should also make sure the application is polished, specific, and well-argued. “Most admissions panels are made up of top scholars with a mix of specialties, and a project proposal needs to be both intelligible and interesting to a wide scholarly audience.”
Mishra thanked Auburn’s History Department for its support throughout her application process, and praised the department for its flexibility in allowing her to take the fellowship. “There was never a question about whether or not I could take up the fellowship, which is not always a given at most institutions,” she noted. While Dr. Mishra admitted that “being away from Auburn for a year is not easy,” she stated that she has enjoyed her time at the library immensely and the many benefits of the fellowship are sure to shine through in her work.
Last Updated: March 31, 2014