Pedagogy Series: Interview with Sarah Smylie

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By: Sarah Smiley, first-year undergraduate at The University of Alabama

Editor’s Note: This post is the fourth in a six-part series highlighting innovative special collections pedagogy. Read an interview with Sarah Smiley’s instructor, Brook Champagne; review the assignment; or learn about Mary Dees. As Champagne taught two sections of the same course, the final two posts of this series will cover Shelby Gatewood, who is the featured student from Champagne’s second section. 



Sarah Smiley

Congratulations on having your work chosen to be featured on Cool@Hoole! To start with, can you summarize your paper topic? 

The topic of my paper was the constant comparison between Mary Dees and Jean Harlow and the emotional effect that it had on Mary through the use of Mary Dees’ Scrapbooks found at Hoole Special Collections Library.

Had you heard of or visited a special collections repository before you came to the W.S. Hoole Library?

Before visiting W.S. Hoole Library I had never heard of or been to a special collections library before, but after talking about it in class, I was very interested in it.

What was your first impression of Hoole?

I thought that it was amazing that Hoole had so many unique artifacts that cannot be found at any other place.

How did you conduct your research for this paper?

I conducted my research for this paper by visiting Hoole and looking through Mary Dees’ two scrapbooks. I took notes on the many articles and pictures that were pasted in there and took pictures of the articles as well. I also used the Scout database on the Gorgas Library website to find more articles and information about Mary Dees and Jean Harlow.

Mary Dees folder clippings

Clippings from Mary Dees

How was this type of research assignment different from the kinds of research you’ve done before?

This type of research assignment was different from other types of research that I have done before because the goal of this assignment was to tell a story about my topic and not simply present the facts. I had to find the information, interpret it, and present it in an interesting manner. This process took a more creative approach than any other research assignment that I have done before.

Did your writing process change or stay the same due to working in the archive? 

My writing process changed due to working in the archive because after spending hours going through Mary Dees’ handmade scrapbooks I felt an emotional connection to her and what she went through as an actress.  It was important to me to show other people what she went through on an emotional level because that was what impacted me the most while looking through her scrapbooks. If I had not worked in the archive I would not have chosen the same topic because I never really would have understood how Mary Dees felt about her career.

What challenges did you face while doing your research?

The most prominent challenge that I faced while doing research was that many of the newspapers articles that were in her scrapbooks were just cut out of the newspapers, so it was difficult to determine when the articles were written, what newspapers they were from,  and the page that it was found on. This made it difficult to cite some of the articles specifically. It was also difficult to find other information about Mary Dees that was not in her scrapbooks because she was not very famous and most things that were written about her were written during the 1930s and could not be found on internet databases.

What did you most enjoy about your research at Hoole?

The thing that I most enjoyed about doing research at Hoole was flipping through the pages of Mary Dees’ scrapbooks and knowing that those articles had been printed about 75 years before and that I was able to gain an inside perspective to her life from looking through those pages.

Mary Dees open box inside

Mary Dees’ scrapbook box

What would you tell other undergraduate students faced with a similar assignment? What advice would you give them?

I would tell other undergraduate students faced with this assignment not to be intimidated by the scope of the project. They should go to Hoole and look at all of the information about their topic to find what about that person or subject interests them the most. It is important to find something to write about that interests you and that you feel connected to because it means that you will enjoy the research process and enjoy writing your paper because it is a story that you want to share with others.

Would you want to take another class that requires working in the archive in the future?

I would want to take another class that requires working in the archive in the future because there are so many historical pieces in the archive and I would love to find more artifacts that interest me just as much as Mary Dees’ scrapbooks did.

Lastly, what’s your major and why did you pick this area to study? 

I am majoring in chemical engineering because I have always enjoyed chemistry and math. I hope to have a career that will bring help to people or the environment and I think I will be able to do that as a chemical engineer.


This entry was posted in Brooke Champagne, Composition, Pedagogy Series, Sarah Smiley. Bookmark the permalink.

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