Reflection by Shannon Quist

What was the most meaningful part of the project for you?

For me, the most meaningful part of this project was having the opportunity not only to experience the wonder that is archival research here in my own university’s library but to engage with our chosen material in a way that will hopefully make the collections we worked with more accessible and understandable to the public. I especially hope that the introductions we’ve provided lend enough of an approachable lens to potential viewers that they can both grasp the complexities of editing we’ve grappled with over this project and also experience the simple joy of digging around in the memories of women via their letters and personal writing. 

Too often, I feel as though so much of the research done in higher education is hidden away from the main public, but I believe that this system needs to be updated. We display artifacts in museums, don’t we? Why can’t the general public have access to the pieces of memory that we label as important simply by hiding them away in university archives? By digitizing these collections, hopefully, more people in the general public will have the opportunity, like I have, to wonder what a thrill it must have been for Dorothy Scott to fly her first plane, to find herself across the country, to be part of such a huge and monumental group of women pilots in WWII. 

I think, also, it was meaningful for me to consider the different ways different types of scholars approach the acts of archival work. For me, the answer didn’t seem clear-cut at all. I struggled with wondering if I should label Dorothy as a feminist; after all, she did fly a plane back in a time period when women pilots were unheard of. However, I don’t think she herself would have described herself that way in her own time, so I think it would be a dishonor for me to. I also struggled with navigating around the plot holes, if you will, of her life that weren’t described directly in her letters. Although I did have a well-researched book to reference, there is always going to be something missing from a story you’re not a part of. This was my particular feeling of angst. It was my job to paint the picture of Dorothy, who she was, the adventures she had, what kind of letters she wrote, and how they described who she was. But at the same time, it was my job to avoid the static “the end” feeling of finality that we sometimes like to slap on a story we know won’t change any more. Although, yes, her life story is complete because she tragically died along with many other pilots, that doesn’t mean that we or any other researchers will be able to tell a “complete” story that isn’t without bias. That’s why I wanted to do my best to pull letters that seemingly jump around the story of Dorothy’s adventures. I want it to be clear to the people looking at this sub-collection that no story is ever complete, but every story is also subject to its editor. 

My biggest hope is that the people who engage with my subcollection will be able to clearly understand the complexities and simple joys of discovering stories that had the potential to be lost.