By Zach Dirlam, '13
After collecting four letters of recommendation, submitting samples of research projects, and an overwhelming amount of paperwork, all Gerry Battersby could do was wait for a letter from the Newberry Research Fellowship Program.
"I just had to wait and hope for the best," he said. "I knew that it was very competitive, and many other qualified students had applied from many different states, so when I received my acceptance letter in April I was very pleased."
The Newberry is an independent research library in Chicago, and Battersby was one of only 13 students given the chance to attend classes and put together a thesis with the help of some of the top professors in the country over the course of the fall semester.
A political science major with minors in history and economics, Battersby described his classes as "completely different" from the ones he has taken at Albion College, and likened the work at the Newberry program to what graduate students across the country are required to complete.
"For the first eight weeks of the semester, the 12 other scholars and myself would meet with our professors in a seminar twice a week for about two hours at a time," Battersby said. "The seminar was primarily geared toward preparing us for writing such a lengthy piece of research using primary sources."
The junior from Farmington Hills completed 126 pages of his thesis, which analyzes the economic evolution of the Great Lakes region after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 along with the installation of railroads in the 1850s.
Many researchers have chosen to simply discuss how these changes affected the city of Chicago, but Battersby has chosen to cover areas such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Buffalo as well.
"The most difficult was the months of sifting through letters, maps, books, catalogs, along with other primary and secondary sources to collect all the evidence I need to prove my thesis and inject it into current academic knowledge."
A typical day for Battersby consisted of research in the Newberry library from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in addition to research at another one of the city's libraries from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m.
"It was really exciting and tiring at the same time," Battersby said. "I feel like my research has turned up exciting conclusions.
"It was only by fostering growth and diversity in many different smaller locations within the Great Lakes that the larger region, and later Chicago, was able to emerge as a commercial powerhouse based on shipping and industry," Battersby added. "I think this has previously been overlooked by a good deal of scholars, who have instead focused on geographic opportunity meeting eastern capital. My thesis supplements this argument by adding a third crucial actor, the regional businessman/entrepreneur. Without these people, the money that was pumped into the regions may have been frivolously thrown into unwise investments."
Despite having to shoulder a heavy academic workload, Battersby enjoyed living in the heart of the Windy City for the entire semester. He took advantage of the opportunity to attend the Chicago Lyric Opera's production of Simon Boccanegra, an opera that was performed entirely in Italian, performances at the Second City comedy club, and Cubs games at Wrigley Field.
"There is so much to do in Chicago, and there are always people to do it with," Battersby elaborated. "The scholars and I spent a few of our nights searching for cool places to eat, and found some great restaurants all around town, ranging from Polish food, to Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, etc. I really enjoyed exploring Pilsen, a predominately Mexican neighborhood; it had incredible cultural art and was very colorful."
While he loved everything about Chicago, Battersby is excited about returning to Albion in January and playing midfield for the men’s lacrosse team in the spring.
"I missed the people at Albion," Battersby expressed. "It is exciting here, and everyone is wonderful, but at times I feel the other scholars and myself created a research bubble for ourselves."
Once Battersby is back on campus for the second semester of his junior year, he will continue working toward his goal of attending law school and pursuing a career in marketing, policy, corporate or contract law.