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Mary Hennessy

Interview by undergraduate student Felix Auboeck (2020). Major: History and Political Science.

Mary Hennessy, 2018-19 Mary Fair Croushore Graduate Fellow
An early twentieth-century German typewriter advertisement. The vast majority of typists during this period were women.


Can you tell us a little more about the project you’re working on this year?

I am working on my dissertation project, which looks at women's roles as telephone operators, typists and film editors in Weimar Germany (1918-1933).

Why did you choose this particular topic? Why does it interest you?

I chose this topic because I am interested in women's roles in the history of media and technology. Think about Siri - she has a woman's voice, and I think this is due in part to the fact that most telephone operators were women. Looking back to women’s roles in the history of technology, media and communication helps us think about the present moment.

What have you discovered in your research? What are some of the key takeaways?

I discovered that women workers were essential to running modern Germany and that this importance is reflected in cultural productions, especially by women authors.

How does being in this environment with other fellows drive your project? What is one thing you’ve learned from another fellow?

They drive my project by making me want to be better. What I have learned is that writing and research are messy but also rewarding, especially when you are able to share the process with other people.

What is one choice you’re glad you made during your undergrad?

I am glad that I majored in what interested me, without thinking too much about what would happen afterwards. For example, I majored in political science, but now I’m getting a PhD in German. It’s most important to major in what you like.

What advice would you give to undergraduates?

Take advantage of this time as an undergraduate. Read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies, and pursue your interests as much as you can. These four years as an undergraduate are an amazing opportunity to learn. Soak it up!

Why do you think undergrads should study the humanities?

I think the humanities teach us to be critical thinkers and help us to understand the past and the present, and to prepare for the future. Writing, speaking, and reading are skills that are more important than ever, and they will serve students no matter what they study or what they do in their careers.