At George Mason University's 50th Commencement on May 20, 2017, the University awarded Ph.Ds. in history to six students: Jacqueline Beatty, Lindsey Bestebreurtje, Raymond Clark, Sheri Huerta, Holly Moir, and Celeste Tường Vy Sharpe. This is a remarkable achievement for the individuals, their advisers, and the Department of History of Art History. Yet Sharpe’s degree was particularly significant. Hers was the first history dissertation in the country to be presented in an entirely digital format.
Sharpe’s dissertation, called "They Need You! Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945-1980," analyzes the emergence of two organizations devoted to eradicating childhood diseases, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the March of Dimes. As suggested in the American Historical Association’s recently formulated Guidelines for the Doctoral Dissertation Process, Sharpe’s dissertation contains all the all the elements of a standard written dissertation, including historiography, data, analysis, and citations. The digital format—in this case, a publishing platform called Scalar—allows for the inclusion of an enormous number of posters and other visual images from the archives of these organization. These artifacts form a key element of Sharpe’s evidentiary base.
Working closely with her adviser, Professor Suzanne Smith, Sharpe realized early in the research process that an all-digital dissertation would be the most effective method of presenting her material. "Since disabled children have been historically silent and silenced in the archives," she said, "I thought it was vital that this project foreground and promote access to their experiences." Having worked with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at Mason, Sharpe already possessed the digital skills necessary to undertake the project. Professor Smith lauded Shape’s dissertation, commending her for her creativity, historical insight, and digital acumen. These skills have already paid off. Sharpe is currently the Academic Technologist for Instructional Technology at Carleton College in Minnesota.
May 22, 2017