Interview with Guest Curator Kathryn J. Severance

Kathryn J. Severance has completed her second and final week as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project.  As we say farewell to her, let’s take a few moments to find out more about her  behind-the-scenes contributions to this project.

Adverts 250: This was your second week as guest curator.  How did it compare to the first time?  Did you make any changes to your research or writing process based on what you learned the first time?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I think that finding advertisements for this week was a lot more challenging. Also, I think that I had more of a vision in mind while looking for advertisements the first time that I curated, whereas this time I was a little bit more limited because there were fewer newspapers being published by my second Adverts 250 week. The first week in starting the process, I was kind of confused and did not do it correctly at first. Working with Prof. Keyes allowed me to learn how to correctly write posts and locate eighteenth-century advertisements to write about. He also instructed me a lot more the first week on where to go with my posts if I was unsure.

I think that during my second week, I knew how to look at an advertisement and come up with something to discuss. This is something that I learned in the process of doing the project. I also think that my Twitter work this week was a bit different than during my first session. I did more visual posts during my second week, while I did more word- and hashtag-based posts during my first week. I’ve found that people often respond well to visuals, so I’ve gravitated towards using visuals over words.

My research process was lengthier during my first week of curating. I think that this is because I was often unsure as to which resources to seek out. By my second week, I realized that Colonial Williamsburg has many strong resources that can be cited, so I often turned to that for background information. I was also, in general, better at avoiding less scholarly sources during my second week, though originally I did run into an issue before my final version of the post on the runaway Irish indentured servant man was done on Thursday. With advice from Prof. Keyes, I was able to fix this issue and locate a more scholarly and accurate source on the topic before it was posted.

Adverts 250: What is the most important or most interesting thing that you learned about early American history throughout the process of working on this project?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I think that coming across the Irish indentured servant advertisement from Thursday, April 14 was kind of jarring and interesting for me, as someone whose ancestors on my father’s side came from Ireland. My ancestors came to America much later, but in emigrating they experienced a lot of trying conditions and my great-great-grandfather worked at a dock for a very low wage. Though neither my great-grandfather nor his father were indentured servants, my connection with the Irish made me very interested in the subject of indentured servitude and the means by which many English companies sponsored settlers’ journeys to America, where, once they arrived, they would work for free for a period of time between four to six years to pay off their debt from traveling to America. Exploring the topic of indentured servants also made me realize that slavery was not the only form of unfree labor in place during the eighteenth century in America.

Adverts 250: What is the most important thing you learned about “doing history” as a result of working on this project?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I learned many different important things while taking part in the Adverts 250 project as a guest curator. The main thing that I learned about “doing history” while engaging in the processes associated with the project was that history is sometimes about a lot of trial and error and collaborating with fellow historians helps keep you on your toes and make your material stronger. Working with Prof. Keyes, who is well-versed in both colonial history and in using digital means to make history more accessible to the public and fellow historians, helped me gauge what sorts of advertisements would be the most interesting. It also helped me ensure that my historical discussions about the advertisements were accurate and that my references to online sources were correctly cited. Historiography is a very important part of “doing history” and I also found that the historians who responded to my Adverts 250 posts on Twitter provided interesting views, perspectives, and commentaries on the discussions.

Adverts 250: What is your favorite advertisement from your two weeks as guest curator?  Why?

Kathryn J. Severance: My favorite advertisement from my February week and my April week as guest curator is the Massachusetts Gazette advertisement that I featured on February 13, 2016. I thought it was very interesting to compare the list of goods to a modern-day yard sale. I think that making modern-day connections to historical things helps to engage audiences who are not historians to the project. In the field of history, comparisons tend to be something that is good for drumming up interest and helping the general public understand the differences between different societies and periods of time in history within a particular country. Also, I genuinely had fun researching and writing on the topic of indigo, a plant that was used to dye clothing blue, as blue is my favorite color and I’m glad that became an option for people in the Colonial period in America. I made a second reference to indigo in my second week as guest curator for my April 13 post.

Adverts 250:  Is there anything else you would like to share with visitors to the Adverts 250 Project?

Kathryn J. Severance: As a journalist, this project has taught me some interesting things about colonial newspapers. I feel that it has enriched my background on the print newspaper industry, something that I am very passionate about, even as someone who is part of a generation who has grown up using social media and other online resources. Using digital means to bring print newspaper history back is very valuable to both history and to journalism. I appreciate the fact that this project aids in keeping print culture alive, something that is sometimes a struggle in the twenty-first century. This opportunity has been something that will help to shape my overall understanding of the field of public history and the vast opportunities that are available within this field.


Thank you, Kathryn.  You’ve made some insightful contributions to the project.  As a Mass Communications major and History minor, you’ve brought a new perspective to our discussions in class.

Kathryn was recently inducted into the Assumption College chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the History Honor Society.  She continues to tweet at @yesterdaysnewsK.

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