MacLeish Scholars Program Moves into its Second Year


Last summer, nine students perused J.P. Morgan’s Gutenberg Bibles, original manuscripts of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, letters from Charles Dickens, and much more as part of the MacLeish Scholars literary research program.

Created last year by Dr. Jeffrey Blevins, instructor in English, the MacLeish Scholars Program, named after Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer Archibald MacLeish ’1911, gives rising Seniors an opportunity to participate in literary archival research. The program consists of a two-week summer program that takes place at Yale University; however, the selected scholars moved to Connecticut College since Yale’s dormitories were closed due to COVID-19. The students spent time conducting independent research, visiting library archives, and working with professional writers and bookmakers. The scholars are currently enrolled in a Senior English class, EN481Y Honors Literary Research, to continue their work.

After starting a similar program at The Lawrenceville School, Dr. Blevins decided to renew this past success, given Hotchkiss’s shift away from traditional educational methods. He said, “With [the school] dropping the AP [curriculum] and rethinking what good learning and educating look like, the MacLeish program is a model in which students are fully driving their own [education].”

Dr. Blevins recognized that archival research, one of his favorite aspects of English scholarship, is an opportunity that high school students rarely get to experience. He said, “[The] feeling of joy [and] experience of discovery [in archival research] brings literature to life in totally new ways. It humanizes the process of writing when you see the author’s letters, journals, drafts, and [even everyday] grocery receipts.”

MacLeish Scholar Keeilah Jewell ’22 focused on Black American spirituality. Jewell explained, “I’m really interested in Black studies and religion in general. I wanted to explore the interactions between Black Americans and Christianity, especially the ways in which Christianity is leveraged as a power in an oppressive system.”

In addition to archival research, students engaged in a bookmaking project containing their creative writing pieces under the guidance of two outside educators, Janan Alexandra and Neil Daigle-Orians. Jewell said, “My creative writing project is a compilation of writing [about familial] interaction…. My book was a real experience to make: it’s jumbled and disjointed, which matches the work that deals with complex issues of familial relationships.”

Students also wrote different forms of poetry and practiced close reading and analysis of poetry that will be carried over into their research. Dr. Blevins noted the similarities between creative and analytical writing: “I love the idea of connecting the creative and analytical. In analysis, when we think through evidence, a lot of the pattern building that students do has real creativity–the same type that poets use.”

While students worked on their individual research projects, both Dr. Blevins and Jewell noted the camaraderie and connection students shared. Jewell said, “My favorite part was being together and doing research as we all focused on different topics and [took different] approaches. It was motivating to be around others and talk during lunch about [the research] we did that morning.”

In recognition of strong student interest in the MacLeish Scholars Program, Dr. Lisanne Norman ’94, instructor in humanities and social science, is pioneering the Hersey Scholars Program which will launch this school year. Named after writer and journalist John Hersey ’32, the Hersey Scholars Program will focus on archival research in history and social science. Similar to MacLeish, students will participate in a two-week summer program engaging with the archives at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Dr. Norman said, “It’ll offer students who are more history-minded to… use the archival collection to dig deep. We really want to take students to see Boston and go through tours of Widener Library on Harvard’s campus, historical sites, and Modern art museums.”

Current Upper Mids can look forward to information sessions on the MacLeish Scholars Program on October 3 and November 7, at which attendance is a prerequisite to apply. The applications are due on December 16. The Hersey Scholars Program will hold information sessions at the end of the semester, with applications opening in January.