Student Profile: Senior English and History Major Moira Armstrong and Associate Professor Molly Merryman, Ph.D.
What has been the most beneficial part of working with Dr. Molly Merryman?
Moira Armstrong: I think the most beneficial part has been getting hands on experience. It is kind of rare to be this involved in a research project as an undergraduate student. I am glad I have been able to be involved in this in terms of the current research being involved in Queer Britain, which is something I want to keep doing after I graduate. Through knowing Dr. Molly Merryman, I have been able to meet people at graduate programs I am interested in and build those connections. So, I think the biggest benefit among many benefits is it is helpful to me not just right now, but for the future as well.
What has been the most beneficial part of working with a student researcher?
Dr. Molly Merryman: I would say that the most beneficial part of working with Moira Armstrong has been to have a long-term involvement. It has now been almost 18 months that they have been working on this. Moira Armstrong started by providing transcription assistance and is now a research assistant on this project. By Kent State University supporting undergraduate student research, it enables us to have a long-term relationship, so Moira Armstrong’s role has grown substantially. This past fall, if not for the work they were doing, we would have stalled out on our project because there were other Covid-19 related and classroom related problems I and our other faculty researchers were facing. Moira Armstrong singlehandedly has been keeping the project sustained through the fall. It really is wonderful to work with someone and see their skills build and have a person that can take over and have those responsibilities.
How have you seen Moira Armstrong grow in their time as a student researcher?
Dr. Molly Merryman: Moira Armstrong is a very dedicated and systematic scholar, so they have continued to learn more about the project, learn more about how expansive it is, and keep advancing their skills and actively wanting to learn more in general and apply the best practices and scholarly lessons they have learned being a history major, bringing that into our program. I have seen those skills be enhanced and the trust built, because the three of us who are the faculty partners have complete trust in Moira Armstrong and have been rewarded by having that trust.
What is the purpose of the Queer Pandemic Project and what sort of research have you been conducting with them?
Dr. Molly Merryman: The Queer Pandemic Project is part of a larger project we call Virtually Queer, a digital and video-based oral history project I started for Queer Britain in 2018. Queer Britain is the national museum of LGBTQIA+ history in the United Kingdom and will be opening a brick-and-mortar location this spring. Within that overall project, the goal of the Virtually Queer project is to gather, preserve, and elevate life stories of LGBTQIA+ individuals. A struggle we have with LGBTQIA+ history is that these life stories have not always been documented, they have been hidden, destroyed, and eliminated. So, part of the goal of this museum is to gather and maintain the life stories of ordinary people because we tend to know the celebrities, the rich people, and the powerful people. We had planned in 2020 to go on an education abroad trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland and take students along as researchers to gather stories, but the pandemic derailed that. What I decided at that point was we could just sit back and say we will wait this out, or we could recognize that from a historical perspective, there was a real opportunity here to tell stories of LGBTQIA+ people and how their lives are affected by Covid-19. This includes how they are dealing with Covid-19, as well as some of the larger, more thematic issues like how Covid-19 has interrupted, disrupted, and possibly destroyed parts of LGBTQIA+ communities and neighborhoods.
Moira Armstrong: Aside from the transcribing and organizational-end activities I have been doing, I have also been working with the big themes that have emerged from these interviews. For example, the impact on LGBTQIA+ spaces, people’s collective memories of AIDS, etc. The questions in the interviews cover 3 big themes: the pandemic in general, the pandemic specifically as an LGBTQIA+ person, and the government’s response to Covid-19. A lot of the responses end up being tied back to the AIDS epidemic as people see connections between what is happening now and what happened then. A lot of interesting patterns have shown up in the interviews, and the research I have been doing with Dr. Molly Merryman has been digging into those themes.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in your research thus far?
Dr. Molly Merryman: The proudest accomplishment for me has been having the insight to do this and to set up a rigorous, careful research design. We have a partner at Goldsmiths University of London, so our scholarly team is international, student researchers have been from both here at Kent State University and the United Kingdom. I remember at the time people saying should I invest the time to setting up a rigorous design, as it took several months to get the questionnaire together and to set up parameters for the study, because people were saying, “this is going to be over by summer, are you going to miss the opportunity?” So, I am very glad that we stood by our intellectual training and that we were applying the proper rigor.
Moira Armstrong: I think the thing I am proudest of is the Journal of Memory Studies article I have been writing with Dr. Molly Merryman, as it is the first scholarly article for publication I have ever been involved with. I have been working with these oral histories for a long time, and it was really cool when Dr. Molly Merryman and I started talking about what this article was going to cover, as we started talking about the themes, subjects, and theory we wanted to tie in. During that conversation, I felt like my brain was going 100 miles an hour because I kept thinking of things from the oral histories that would tie in and it was a really good feeling to know this collection well enough where I can take it a step further into the article-writing piece of scholarship, and know what I am doing and have an idea of where I want to go. That was a great feeling, and it was really fun to write.
How has this research affected your time here at Kent State University?
Moira Armstrong: It has been awesome to be working with this research while at Kent State University, and it is fantastic that I have been able to do all this research remotely. As a lot of access to in-person resources has gone away, it has been fantastic that Dr. Molly Merryman and the rest of the research team have been so flexible, that I have been able to keep doing things remotely, and I am grateful to be involved in that sense. I think it has also given me a direction for research I am doing in class. I am in a history senior seminar course right now, and I am using these interviews as a part of the big term paper for the course. It has been great overall, and it has also helped me figure out the direction I will be going for graduate school.
Dr. Molly Merryman: I think the research has been a real driver for me. One of the changes I made professionally was, when I started the project, I was directing one of the university's centers, and I ended up stepping down from administration and moving full-time into being a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies so I would have more time for this research. The College of Arts and Sciences always encourages professors to stay research active, but there are additional demands that limit how much time you can spend in research, so I thoughtfully considered what I should do. I realized that this project was so important that I wanted to have more time for research, and I wanted to be able to take advantage of this moment in time, because the Covid-19 pandemic is globally and nation-altering. It is one of those tremendous moments that many generations do not experience, and we are in that right now. So, to get to be doing this in a way that is both intellectually, and theoretically an investment, but also having the privilege to connect with the emergence of a national museum of great significance, it still blows me away that this is what we are doing. This is probably the most important research I have engaged in in my career.
Will there be opportunities for people locally to see this work?
Dr. Molly Merryman: Yes, we are looking into some funding options with Kent State University, because as we launch Queer Britain, we would like to set up a travelling exhibition. Both the museum and Kent State University would like to see this, so we would be able to make this travelling exhibition available here as well.
Is there anything else you would like to add regarding this research?
Dr. Molly Merryman: The relationship and work that Moira Armstrong and I have and are doing together is indicative of the vision that Kent State University has, to invest in undergraduate student research and to really prioritize it. I know when I have talked to colleagues at other institutions, they are pleasantly surprised that we have this structure, and I think it speaks to the quality and excellence of the students who attend Kent State University.
Moira Armstrong: I am really blown away by how much research opportunity there has been. My impression going into college was that research was not something you did until graduate school, yet I am happy to be proven wrong, that Kent State University has these structures in place to allow undergraduate students to get involved in research. I am really thrilled at all the opportunities I did not know were here and I have found since coming to Kent State University.
Written by: Ella Wold