Next Deadline: 11:59pm on Sunday, September 10
Info Sessions: Monday, August 21, 4:30-5:15  Macksey Seminar Room (BLC, M-level)

Apply to be a First-Year Fellow

Launched in 2016, First-Year Fellows (originally known as Freshman Fellows) is an academic opportunity designed to introduce students to conducting research with rare books, manuscripts, and archival material during their first year at The Johns Hopkins University. Limited to only four students a year, the successful applicant will:

  • Conduct research with rare books, manuscripts, and archival collections;
  • Analyze items of cultural significance and improve their research skills;
  • Be partnered with a mentor in Special Collections who will provide them with individualized research plans;
  • Create an end-product of their choosing that focuses on their research, such as an academic talk, a poster presentation, a work of fiction, or an online exhibition;
  • Receive a $1,250 research award during the spring semester.

Research outcomes may include a display in the Special Collections Reading Room, a webinar, a poster session, or other project that showcases your research in an accessible and interesting manner. Please contact Heidi Herr (, the program manager, for questions about the program or for guidance with the application process. You are also encouraged to directly contact the mentor associated with the topics(s) you are interested in researching.


  • The First-Year Fellows program is restricted to JHU first-year undergraduates.
  • Applicants must select from one of the research topics on offer and are encouraged to email the associated mentor with any questions.
  • No prior experience with primary sources is necessary.
  • Students who accept a fellowship are required to write two blog posts for the Sheridan Libraries highlighting their research, attend a research roundtable held in April, and submit their research projects to their mentors by May 31.

How to Apply

To apply, write an essay of no more than 750 words discussing why you want to be part of the program and which one of the pre-selected topics you would like to explore. Students may apply to more than one research topic, but a separate essay must be written for each application submission.

2023/2024 Research Topics

Across the Burning Sands: Exploring perceptions of the Middle East through popular sheet music

Mentor: Sam Bessen

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 spurred a flurry of fascination with Middle Eastern history, culture, and art. Even before this monumental discovery, the United States had an unyielding obsession with the Middle East and Asia, featuring exoticized (and often Islamophobic) images of its geography, people, and architecture in popular culture. Since television and cinema hadn’t yet become widely available, this “Egyptomania,” as it was called, was often expressed in the form of sheet music. Come explore over 200 years of music, art, architecture, celebrities, and history through the lens of popular music!

It’s Greek (or German or Latin or Spanish or Italian) to Me

Mentor: Mack Zalin

The author Italo Calvino once called the translator his “most important ally” who “introduce[d] [him] to the world.” By translating hitherto untranslated works in German, Latin, Spanish, Italian, or Classical Greek held in Special Collections at Johns Hopkins University, you, too, can introduce readers to the world and be introduced to the libraries at Hopkins in turn. No matter what your interests or intended major may be, your working knowledge of any one of these languages can be applied to translating a host of texts on a variety of subjects that have never been rendered into English.

Activist Cooking

Mentor: Heidi Herr

Special Collections has cookbooks dating back to the 16th century, featuring culinary traditions from around the world. However, cookbooks are far more than just collections of recipes. They can be fascinating agents for social change, works of nationalistic propaganda, and profound documents for cultural memory and identity. From suffragettes using cookbooks to promote voting rights for women to privacy activists publishing recipes from data leaks, the allegedly innocuous cookbook has made the question of “What’s for dinner” fraught with possibilities for centuries! Lettuce guide you on a culinary journey like no other during your first year at JHU.

Investigating Early Student Records

Mentor: Brooke Shilling

Student records are restricted for the lifetime of the student or eighty years from the last date of attendance. The earliest student files from 1876 to 1943 in the records of the Office of the Registrar (RG-13-010) are therefore open for research. They shed light on university applications and admissions requirements, letters of recommendation, and data collection practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can explore some of the following questions, or come up with questions of your own:

  • How did applications vary among academic groups or fields, and later, Schools, or graduates and undergraduates?
  • How did admissions requirements change over time?
  • What information was gathered and retained by the university? What information did applicants volunteer?
  • What student experiences and achievements were valued?
  • What subjects and grades were required or expected in secondary education?
  • What was the grading system at the university and how was that information recorded on grade cards or early transcripts?