I was really happy when Nell Pratt asked me to be sort-of a gun for hire for a project she was working on at the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society. I know, that sounds kind of odd. What it means is that the staff there is already stretched kind of thin, so when someone really important came along and wanted some research to be done ASAP, Nell had to scramble to find someone qualified to do it. That would be me.
I’m a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, working on a degree in history and urban planning, and my scholarship and student loans don’t leave much for anything more than the bare essentials. When Nell offered me a short-term project working on a suburban history project, involving a piece of land in Chester County, outside of Philadelphia, and told me how much it would pay, of course I jumped at it.
It didn’t start well. The first time we visited the property, Nell and I found a body. This is not typical of university research projects.
But once we got past that, things got really interesting. The Really Important Person turned out to be a high-profile Philadelphia developer who wanted to build an upscale planned community, and he was going to make sure it was done right. And he also wanted to check the history of the property to be sure that there were no unpleasant surprises waiting. Did I mention we found a body? That falls into that category. And that was just the beginning. But by the time I was finished with the historic research, we’d kind of re-written a part of the Revolutionary War. How often can a grad student say that?
I had never realized that research could be so interesting. I hope Nell will keep me on for other projects—although I could do without any more bodies.