Anna Denman's future plans are already written down in history
At Ohio University, Anna Denman found two ways to love history — through objects and the stories they illustrate and through rare documents and the stories they tell.
These interests translate into different career paths — museum curator or archivist — and different graduate school programs. So, Denman's next step after graduation is an internship with Digital Projects at the Western Reserve Historical Society this summer.
"I am super excited about that opportunity, so that is the first step. I will definitely be attending grad school in the future, but I am taking it one step at a time," said Denman, a senior history major in the Honors Tutorial College (HTC) who's also pursuing the Museum Studies Certificate program.
Denman's interest in museum work shines through in her HTC thesis, which examines the repurposing of objects of enslavement into tools of escape based on data collected from runaway slave advertisements.
"My mentor Dr. Mariana Dantas and I brainstormed how to connect my interest in the history of slavery with my interest in material history (the study of objects). Over the summer, I visited New Orleans, Louisiana, for the second time in my life and fell more deeply in love with the city, its culture, and studying its history. We decided to incorporate Louisiana into my research, and my thesis, 'Claiming Freedom: The Material World of Runaway Slaves in Louisiana, 1825-1865,' was born," said Denman, who presented her work at the OHIO Student Expo.
Denman had originally planned to pursue a career in museum curating, but an internship last fall with the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections altered her path.
"There, I explored an unidentified photo album, connected it to the O’Bleness collection, and then organized and processed that collection, which had received little attention since the '70s," said Denman, who wrote about her work for the OHIO Archives Blog.
"It was my first experience with archival work, and I loved the project I worked on, which got me interested in possibly pursuing a career as an archivist," said Denman, who's working for Digital Initiatives (DI) at Alden Library, where she's now creating metadata and capturing images of the photographs in the collection to be uploaded to the OHIO digital archives. "I love working for DI and highly recommend it to other students."
"I have loved both my work with the Museum Studies program and the archives, which has made deciding how to proceed after graduation difficult. I decided to take some time off from school after graduation and try to find work in both fields to help me decide which path to follow before applying to graduate school," Denman said.
How have internships and getting hands-on experience shaped Denman's career at OHIO? And what advice does she have for her sister, who starts at OHIO this fall?
Q&A with Anna Denman
Q: Did you have any internships, study abroad, research projects, student leadership, or other experiential learning opportunities?
A: I worked as a resident assistant both virtually (thanks to the pandemic) and in Bromley Hall throughout my second year here at OHIO. That was a great experience and challenged me to work on helping to build community and support the well-being of my residents in a time when we could do very little in-person interaction.
I interned over the summer of 2022 with the Medina County Historical Society. I was born and raised in Medina, and my community is very important to me, so I asked the president of the historical society if there was any way I could work with them over the summer and get a glimpse into the work that keeps a historical society running. They created an internship for me, and I will always cherish that experience. I got to aid in an assortment of projects and was tasked with coming up with ideas to help connect with high school students in the community. I created an Instagram page for the historical society and helped teach a couple of board members how to use it so they could keep it up after I returned to school.
I also helped to develop and create the Museum Studies Certificate program’s class of 2023 exhibit at the Kennedy Museum of Art. I was part of the stewardship group which built and set up the entire exhibit, down to the paint on the walls. After months of work, our exhibit opened on April 14 and will remain open until Sept. 11, 2023. I highly recommend a visit to our exhibit to anyone interested in art or local history.
I also was in CHAARG, which is a women’s fitness organization on college campuses. I was also an HTC mentor and met with my first-year mentee to help guide them through their first year here at OHIO.
Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?
A: My two favorite professors are Dr. Kevin Mattson and Dr. Dantas. I took my first classes with both of them during my first semester here at OHIO, when I was an anxious freshman who was terrified to participate in class. I actually tried to drop Dr. Mattson’s History through Film after the first day, which was my second day of college classes ever, after I realized that I was the only first-year in a room filled with students who were much more knowledgeable and prepared for the class than I was.
Dr. Shadis, my advisor at the time, convinced me to stay just one more week, and that turned out to be one of my favorite classes I have ever taken. I have now taken most, if not all, of the courses Dr. Mattson offers as well as a tutorial connected to his cultural rebels course. The way he teaches just works exceptionally well for my learning style. He teaches U.S. cultural and intellectual history, and most of his classes are centered on the 20th century, which is not my greatest strength, but I always feel like I leave his classes far more knowledgeable and understanding of the culture and politics of the country I live in.
His classes are all discussion-based, and he guides the discussion using prompt questions we write based on the readings he assigns, so the class is completely guided by topics the students are interested in discussing. During my tutorial with him, I ended up getting really interested in the work of both Jane Addams and Emma Goldman, so Dr. Mattson allowed me to spend the semester studying the two progressive-era women and the role womanhood played in their work. He makes his classes engaging and interesting and encourages students to expand their minds, debating issues amongst each other. He created an open-minded classroom where I have engaged in and witnessed fascinating conversations.
Dr. Dantas taught my first tutorial ever which was connected to her World History Since 1750 course. She immediately made me feel welcome here at Ohio University and is the reason I felt confident enough in my academic abilities to continue in the Honors Tutorial College. Throughout that course, she challenged me and pushed me to think about history and the study of history in new ways. She has continued to do so ever since. I took another tutorial with her during my sophomore year, which was connected to her Slavery in the Americas course.
I have always been interested in African American history and, more specifically, the history of slavery. Dr. Dantas taught the Historical Research and Writing course the semester before our second tutorial. We spent the tutorial studying the history of womanhood in slavery in the Americas. Dr. Dantas has had an incredible influence on my writing skills, and I owe so much of my confidence in my own abilities to her. She has been an incredible mentor and has guided me through every step, making me a stronger and more confident writer along the way.
Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?
A: I feel like I had a lot of these moments throughout my time here, as my confidence in my abilities has not always been on a linear path. The first ah-ha moment would probably be sitting in Dr. Mattson’s class near the end of my first semester here (the same one I considered dropping at the beginning of that semester) and realizing that I was actively and passionately engaging in conversations and debates with students who had been studying university-level history far longer than I had. The encouragement and support of great professors can mean everything.
Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?
A: I think the hardest challenge has been balancing personal struggles with my academics. I was not diagnosed with ADHD until after I entered college but getting that diagnosis and learning healthy methods to deal with my symptoms has helped me a lot in school. I have also had extremely supportive professors who have been understanding about my struggles. Balancing mental health and academic goals has always been challenging for me, but my time here at OHIO has taught me so much in that department.
I learned how to study and how to work in ways that help me stay motivated and stay on top of my work. One of the best ways I have learned to stay motivated and on task, even when my mental health is not at its best, is to reserve a study room at the library and have a friend or two come with me to work side-by-side in silence. The slightly more private, quiet rooms help me stay focused, and co-working always helps motivate me to get my own assignments done. My time at OHIO has taught me that it is okay to seek help when I am struggling, and that most people are on my side, rooting for my success.
Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?
A: This question is nearly impossible for me to answer because I have so many great memories here, but I will give you a few that popped into my mind immediately. Many of my favorite memories involve the beauty and peacefulness of the nature and architecture of OHIO and Athens. One great memory is sledding down a hill at Strouds on wreath holders and pieces of cardboard with my friends because all the nearby stores were sold out of actual sleds in the days leading up to a big snowstorm. Another favorite memory is hammocking near Emeriti Park every year as soon as the weather starts to warm up a little in the spring. I love sitting around in hammocks with my friends, even when we are doing schoolwork at the same time, enjoying the beauty of campus, and watching as tour groups walk by and parents point us out to their kids, likely telling them something like “that could be you next year!” I also love paddle boarding and kayaking at Strouds with my friends when it's warm out, and I cannot wait to get back out there in the next few weeks.
Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?
A: My younger sister will be a first year at OHIO next year, and I have been providing her with an endless list of activities she must do while she’s here. I would tell her and other new OHIO students to attend as many events put on by OU and university organizations as possible. I wish I had been more aware in my first couple years here about the endless list of events and activities that happen on and around campus. There are always concerts, films, theater performances, lectures, festivals etc. happening nearby and getting out there and participating in the cultural and educational experiences Athens can provide is an essential part of the OHIO experience, in my opinion.