It’s the time of year that Whitman students start to wrap up their summer internships or jobs and get ready to head back to Walla Walla for the school year. But many students never left. Instead they spent their summer alongside their professors, doing important research and learning quite a bit in the process.
Each year about 100 Whitman students get paid to conduct collaborative research with faculty during the summer. Faculty collaborators come from nearly every department on campus, from humanities to sciences to the arts.
Some of the research is funded by donations and some by prestigious grants. This year students studied sports-related concussions, Scottish Romantic authors, wastewater in U.S. lakes, and the Walla Walla Foundry. They created new apps, tested drinking water in Walla Walla, and tested ways to help boost attention and learning in infants from low-income families.
Associate professor of French Sarah Hurlburt has been doing summer research with students for more than 10 years. She says it allows her to accomplish a lot more than if she had been working alone.
“Research is a solitary activity and thinking sometimes needs dialogue to reveal its weak spots,” Hurlburt said. “One of the positive aspects for me, working with students in the summer, is that we have the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations. We do the work, and we talk about the work, and in doing the talking, our work is better.”
It’s the second summer sisters Jessie and Nicki Day-Lucore have worked alongside Hurlburt doing research on the Frenchtown Historic Site. The Frenchtown site, just outside of Walla Walla, was a French-Canadian, Native-American mixed community during the 1840s and predated the Whitmans’ arrival in our area.
Jessie and Nicki spent the summer of 2016 researching and writing biographies of the women of Frenchtown. The personal stories of these women have been largely untold up until now.
“We thought it was important to tell their stories independent of their husbands which was rare at the time,” said Nicki.
This summer, they completed the biographies, which are now on display at Frenchtown. Then they turned their attention to the cemetery of unmarked graves at the site.
Jessie and Nicki tapped into their inner detectives by pouring through church burial records, census records, ancestry.com, and findagrave.com. They used extensive resources, including talking to local historians, to create a record of the families buried there.
This winter, new signs will be installed at the cemetery – the product of months of work by the Day-Lucores and Hurlburt. The signs will not only speak to the history of the descendants of Frenchtown, but also offer context of how the families fit into the history of the Walla Walla Valley.
The work this summer isn’t all about takeaways. Nicki and Jessie, along with Hurlburt, will also give back to the Walla Walla community. This October they’ll teach community members how to research their own family history using census and church records. Then they’ll present the findings about the Frenchtown cemetery. Community interactions like these have been an unexpected highlight for the Day-Lucores.
“It’s not just us doing insular research and growing academically and personally, but us figuring out ways to communicate the research to the public,” said Jessie. “It helps people learn and engage in history, just like we’ve been able to do.”
In the midst of their research projects, both Jessie and Nicki joined the board of directors of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation., volunteering their time and skills year-round.
“Working with community members on the board has changed the way I think about history,” said Jessie.
“The board members are not professional historians but they are passionate, hardworking, and are really good at what they do. They are really valuable voices in our community. History doesn’t have to be this hoity toity thing. Public history is really valuable.”