When Professor Julia Schleck received the news she had been selected as a Franklin Research Grant recipient, her first thought was, "WOO HOO!"
The Franklin Grant, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, is an annual grant designed specifically to help meet the costs of travel to libraries and archives for research purposes. It is the perfect fit for Schleck, who made the decision to apply when she realized she would need the support of a grant to begin research on her next book project.
The grant board awards a few scholars with funds of up to $6,000 for the purpose of document procurement and travel and living expenses over the course of a month or two, which can be spent in both domestic and foreign libraries.
Being chosen for this grant is considered a major success, according to Schleck.
"There's nothing better than having someone support you financially as you attempt to pursue your academic goals," said Schleck.
"It is not just a sum of money that someone's given you, it's outside validation," added Professor Stephen Burnett, chairman of the Department of Classics and Religious Studies.
Validation is even more difficult to come by now. Gaining access to documents and other research materials has become much easier with the influx of the Internet.
"The standards for scholarship are much more rigorous than they used to be," he said. "Every time something like this (research) becomes easy, the bar of expectations is higher."
The project Schleck intends to research with her grant, "The Genres of Early Capitalism: English Trading Companies and the Management of Narrative, 1580-1640," will focus on the role of English trading companies in the evolution of travel writing in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Her book will be about the ways in which trading companies tried to influence what their employees wrote while traveling and how that changed writing at the time, according to her project statement.
"We don't tend to think about how ‘non-fiction' genres, like news articles or company memos, are crafted but they have their own histories and traditions, just like novels or short stories," Schleck said. "The difference is that news or company reports come to be thought of as presenting ‘true' accounts of foreign lands, and arguably influence how people think about cultures different from their own just as much or more than (for example) a play like ‘Othello."
This summer, Schleck will use her grant money to study at the British Library and the British National Archives at Kew, both in London.
"I will stay in London for as long as my funds hold out," she said. "I'm hoping to be there for two months, and then escape right before the flood of people arrive for the Summer Olympics."
Despite her excitement about beginning her research, Schleck is also nervous. She said she's not sure she'll be able to find the sources she needs.
"Part of researching is taking a calculated risk about what you think you will find," she said. "Actually finding those things is a complicated task, and you don't always find what you are looking for."
Sometimes research leads to unexpected information.
"The advantage of being on the spot to study is you're more flexible," Burnett said.
This proved especially true for Schleck, whose entire dissertation project, on which she based her first book, changed when she found new documents that she wasn't expecting.
"I'm open to surprises," she said.