Before I started work on my senior thesis, I had never actually done archival research. After eight months of working with the papers of late Romanian economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, I've got to say that Duke has built a phenomenal support system around its Special Collections Library. Right from the beginning, with the fantastic faculty support I got from Dr. Weintraub, to using the Special Collections website to pinpoint the exact papers I needed, to then actually sitting down with the rich personal effects of the controversial subject of my study, I felt completely comfortable and unhindered to pursue my work, with a seemingly infinite set of resources at my disposal. No kidding: it's as easy to pinpoint information in Duke's library as it is to use Google to find information on the internet. It's that organized and easy to use.
To be among another scholar's life's work is a surreal experience. Sifting through hundreds of deeply personal letters, crackling with age and wear, I think I began to understand Georgescu on a level that most others academics writing about him from a distance couldn't access. Box after box, I delved deeply into the letters and papers, and conversations began to emerge: I came to understand Georgescu the person, not only Georgescu the academic. The belligerent manner in which he interacted with well-meaning colleagues began to paint itself a major, if not prime culprit in the poor reception of his ideas! There's a funny, and dramatically telling cartoon that I found in one of Georgescu's boxes. In that cartoon, an artist accidentally paints the Mona Lisa merely by throwing a bucket of mixed paints onto a canvas. Obviously that wouldn't happen in a million years, but Georgescu wrote on the cartoon, "In the long run, it has to happen!" It occurred to me that this little cartoon, one that nobody studying Georgescu outside of Duke could possibly have knowledge of, captured Georgescu's personality exactly. Feeling that nobody accepted his ideas, Georgescu must have been prone to tell himself, "In the long run, it has to happen!" Thus, he didn't feel the need to change his personality or the obscure way in which he wrote, because he felt that eventually someone would "discover" him and appreciate his work for what it was. That, to date, hasn't happened in any significant way.
For writing about Georgescu in a way that other scholars literally couldn't without Duke's Special Collections, I received the Middlesworth Award, to my astonishment. What's even more incredible is how I've been contacted by several prominent scholars who've found my paper on Google and want to cite it, asking if it's okay to do so. For all of the incredible things that Duke gave me throughout my undergraduate career: skills, knowledge, incredible relationships with incredible people, I have to say that it's a great feeling that the Special Collections Library at Duke gave me the tools necessary to put quality research together to give back to academia.
Samuel Iglesias T’09
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