This summer I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Junior Fellow in the Science, Technology & Business Division with my mentor Natalie Burclaff researching consumer advertising during Herbert Hoover’s presidency. When I heard in mid-March that the Library of Congress was transitioning the Junior Fellows Program online, due to the pandemic, I was incredibly grateful that it was still happening, but I was filled with questions. I wondered what my project would be now that my original project was no longer possible, whether I’d be able to get to know my mentor, colleagues, and the other Junior Fellows, whether Display Day would still happen, and what it would mean to work at the Library for a summer when commuting suddenly meant booting up my laptop at home in Minnesota instead of taking public transportation to the John Adams Building in Washington, D.C.
Although this is the first year that the Junior Fellows Program has been entirely online, I wouldn’t have guessed it from the adaptability of my coworkers and the program’s organizers. I’ve been lucky to spend the summer honing my research skills and working with my mentor to create a research guide about consumer advertising in the Great Depression.
It’s a subject that I likely wouldn’t have encountered in the course of my studies as a Political Science major and French minor, but I’m glad I did. Working in the Science, Technology & Business Division introduced me to a new lens of conducting historical research and business history and gave me a new appreciation for consumer history and media studies, as well as how advertising functions in our daily lives. It was occasionally startling to encounter advertisements from the early years of the Great Depression whose opening lines sounded like they’d been ripped from a contemporary commercial about a company’s approach to combating Covid-19. Instead of beginning “In these uncertain times…,” the historical advertisements I’d found would say “In these days of our depression.”
I’ve been lucky to learn from the librarians in my division about a whole swath of historical and academic resources. Using general resources about consumer marketing during the 1920s and 1930s as a starting point, I researched the formation of different consumer protection groups and the close ties between advertising agencies and some of the most popular radio programs of the day.
In practical terms, conducting research virtually has limited my access to certain historical sources like Printers’ Ink, a major advertising trade publication that is only available on site at the Library. However, the difficulty of accessing some of these sources has also encouraged me to be more deliberate about seeking out and highlighting a variety of the Library’s online resources in my guide so that it will be more useful for researchers and members of the public who, like me, aren’t able to visit the Library in person.
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