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Erin Dickey (‘18 M.S., ‘18 M.A) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art and Art History housed in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences. She holds two master’s degrees from Carolina in art history and information science. Dickey is the 2022 recipient of the Poulton Family Summer Research Fellowship, which allows her to travel and collect research for her dissertation on art, technology, and feminism in the 1980s. 

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Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A woman wearing glasses with blonde hair poses for a photo.
Erin DIckey

I went to undergrad at Boston University, where I majored in English and religious studies. At the time I thought I wanted to continue in academia, so I went straight to a master’s degree program in religious studies at the University of Chicago. Following that, in 2010, I wanted to explore what life was like outside of school. I moved to New York to start an internship—and eventually became a full-time employee—with national oral history nonprofit StoryCorps. While I was working there, I became really interested in archives and that was really my first introduction to large-scale, born-digital archives. I started thinking ‘okay, what are the questions about regarding access and retrieval of interviews like this, how do people use them?’ I had those ideas in the back of my mind when I moved to North Carolina where I started working for a small nonprofit museum called the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center. 

Q: Tell us about your research.

After completing my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to focus on artists who were considering the politics of technology. I also was particularly interested in the 1980s and 90s as a moment in history, a moment where globally we’re transitioning from material, physical paper storage of information to digital transmission and retrieval. I wanted to focus on women artists who had been understudied in the mainstream art world. In addition to thinking that the 80s was a fascinating moment for technology, it’s also a fascinating moment in the history of feminism. 

Q: What will this summer funding allow you to do?

I have one more research trip coming up, and one that I’ve already completed to San Francisco. There were several stops I made on that trip — I got to look at archives at Stanford University and library archives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I got to see works that I had only read about that are not in an institution but are in storage elsewhere. The method I use in my dissertation focuses on the materiality of encountering artworks or digital systems or machines, so to be able to interact with those things physically was super helpful.  

Q: What does it mean to have generous donors support your research?

It’s really vital in the sense that, as a humanities graduate student, there aren’t as many funding opportunities. It’s really a lifeline. 

Q: What brought you to study this at Carolina?

I always knew that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D., as I was interested in the opportunity to pursue complex questions and have the time and space to do that. I had a great experience with Carolina’s dual degree program for my master’s degree. My program was funded under an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant. The principal investigators on that grant — Carol Magee, J.J. Bauer, Denise Anthony, and Philip Vandermeer …  were incredibly supportive and wonderful to work with, and I had such profoundly useful professional development opportunities. Additionally, my dissertation advisor, Cary Levine, is just a wonderful educator and super supportive of the kinds of questions that I want to ask. So, I found the environment from my mentors to be collegial and supportive. We’re a small department and my peers and I are really supportive of each other’s work. When it comes to needing to give a practice talk or wanting someone to read a draft or something, it’s easy to find someone who will help you out. 

—Kate Slate

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