Jen Semler is currently completing her master’s degree in Medieval Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland. She graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and public policy. For Project Vox, she was part of the research team for the Princess Elisabeth and Anna Maria van Schurman cycles.
This interview is part of Where Are They Now? blog series, where we catch up with alumni of Project Vox and discuss their experience with the team as well as their current works.
Roy Auh: Last year, you wrote this wonderful [Revealing Voices] post on how your experience with Project Vox shaped your perspective on the field of philosophy. This time, I am interested in how it shaped you as a researcher. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Jen Semler: As an undergraduate in philosophy, it didn’t always feel like there were many research opportunities available, save menial tasks for a professor working on a book. But when I joined Project Vox at the end of the Princess Elisabeth research cycle, I was immediately able to be involved in substantive work such as boosting the correspondence section with summaries and analysis of Princess Elisabeth’s letters [see “5. Correspondence Guide” in our Princess Elisabeth entry]. My time with Project Vox was quite memorable because of that kind of openness and trust among its members.
RA: It’s interesting to bring up the topic of openness and trust within a research project. What effect did that team ethic have on the work itself?
JS: To start, research in philosophy typically seems to be done individually, to produce a single-authored paper. But our entries can be truly said to have been written as a team, because we really proceeded through each step of the research process cooperatively. For the van Schurman cycle, I constantly bounced off ideas with you, Katherine, and Sandra, and I asked Prof. Janiak for guidance, too. Everyone was encouraging of each other, and so experiencing philosophy research of this nature was something really valuable for me. Without that initial sense of openness and trust, a collaborative philosophy research definitely wouldn’t have been possible.
I have to mention, too, that Project Vox research demonstrated for me the benefits of collaborating with people across the disciplines. Our team comprised of people from different academic backgrounds, from musicology to linguistics to library science (and of course, philosophy). That diversity worked in the project’s favor because we, as a team, were trying to do more than just philosophy research. We were trying to present content to a broader audience; having a team of broad expertise helped with making our content accessible to everyone in that way.
RA: For sure, working with the team made completing these comprehensive entries worthwhile. You were great in taking charge of the various parts of the research process. Did having that experience help you any way with your current work?
JS: Well, in these massive entries, there are several different elements that we had to keep track of for a long time, such as the secondary source bibliographies (on Zotero), correspondences, and even catalogue of images. In that regard, it was pretty different from any philosophical work I’ve done in the past, like writing term papers on one topic. So that encouraged me to not just be confined to a singular expectation of what philosophy research should be.
As a result of that experience with Project Vox, I am now familiar with what a larger research process looks like from start to finish. I understood the logic behind the team’s workflow, designating which sources to look into first, what sections to work on first, and ultimately how to integrate all the different moving parts into a single work. So when it came to my own research, I was more comfortable with taking on similarly large research projects, and was even able to modify the process to fit my topical demands.
Another thing was that I was more willing to work interdisciplinarily, drawing from sources in literature, history, and philosophy. In Project Vox, we had to do that because the available material on early modern women figures was so sparse in existing philosophical literature. We just had to then look to other genres of scholarship for any bits of information. So those were all quite helpful for my larger projects, current and future.
RA: Can I ask what you are currently working on, that is making you work interdisciplinarily?
JS: I’m right now thinking about the role of fate and free will in Icelandic sagas and other literary texts from Iceland’s medieval period. Essentially, I will be writing about the medievalist view on human agency with the background of the belief that some things are determined by fate.
RA: That sounds like a really cool topic. I hope I get to read it once it’s done! Do you have any final thoughts on your time with Project Vox?
JS: I’m just excited to keep seeing what Project Vox does next. The coolest part about the project is that it is a digital publication, which can be constantly updated like a living, growing thing. So I know that whenever I go back to it, I will find new things on the site. Beyond the work experience I got from Project Vox, I’m glad to have found a resource I will be going back to in the future.
Roy Auh is the current Outreach & Assessment Coordinator for Project Vox. Previously for the team, he was the Lead Researcher for Princess Elisabeth and Anna Maria van Schurman cycles. He recently graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s in philosophy, literature, and music.