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Five Questions, Intern Edition: Sean DiLeonardi, 2021 Junior Fellow

Photograph of Sean DiLeonardi

Sean DiLeonardi, Library of Congress Junior Fellow, 2021. Photo courtesy of Sean DiLeonardi.

What is your background?

Originally from Illinois, I worked as a secondary educator in Denver, Colorado before deciding to go to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I recently earned my Ph.D. in English. I am currently a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Throughout these transitions, I have stayed committed to writing and teaching about American literary cultures, and my research focuses in particular on the relationship between aesthetics and phenomena that often fall beyond the purview of the humanities, such as science, technology, mathematics, and computation.

How did you learn about the intern program and why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

I discovered the Junior Fellows Program at the Library of Congress while searching for academic positions and other opportunities that I might take advantage of during my final year of graduate school. The Junior Fellowship appealed to me generally as a means of gaining experience with a major government institution and world-renowned library, thus broadening my access to resources beyond the walls of academia. The specific goals of the project “Arithmetic, Numeracy, Literacy, Imagination,” moreover, resonated strongly with my own research agenda, promising what I imagined to be a paid research opportunity to discover important links between the humanities and the history of arithmetic.

Book cover depicting a manual calculator with dials to move around a circle.

Arithmetic without Figuring by Walter Hart. Book of instructions for the Equationor, or universal calculator. The Equationor Co., 1892.

How would you describe your internship?

I found the fellowship period to be extremely enriching. I spent much of my summer engaged with unique, non-digitized artifacts related to the history of arithmetic, education, and vocational training. As a scholar of contemporary literature, I relished the opportunity to dig into a collection of materials that spanned the nineteenth and even eighteenth centuries. Additionally, throughout the summer my mentor, Nanette Gibbs, generously shared her knowledge of the collections, allowing me to gain a better sense of the sheer number of untapped resources the Library of Congress has to offer scholars and educators. With this sense of intellectual generosity in mind, my co-fellow and I composed a research guide on our project topic that aggregated numerous materials from the collections and outlined pathways future scholars might take in discovering their richness for themselves.

What has amazed you the most about the Library?

The most exciting aspect of my summer at the Library of Congress was the chance to approach the collections from my own unique perspective as a humanist and literary scholar. The opportunity allowed me to discover unusual moments in which, for example, arithmetic textbooks made use of narrative, metaphor, and even poetry. The fellowship even gave me the space to discuss these findings in a blog post on “Mental Arithmetic.” Our work uncovered aids to arithmetic education that went beyond textbooks to include flash cards, manual calculators, and other distinct historical artifacts. We were honored to learn that some of these materials were selected to appear in the Library of Congress Treasures Gallery: Remembrance, rotation 1 exhibit in 2022.

What have you learned about the Library that you didn’t know before you started your internship?

While nothing compares to working with the physical materials contained in historical collections, one significant component of my interdisciplinary research is exploring the relevance of digital tools to humanities research. During my fellowship period, I was delighted to discover LC Labs and the work being done there to bring computational tools to bear on Library of Congress collections in the arts and humanities. As with my work with the rare collections at the Library of Congress, LC Labs represents the work that remains to be done to bring together like-minded initiatives from different institutional spaces so that scholars might avail themselves of resources they don’t yet know exist.

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