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Morgan Vickers

Rising senior Morgan Vickers is an undergraduate research assistant for the Community Histories Workshop in the Digital Innovation Lab. She is a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow double-majoring in American studies and communications studies, with a minor in creative writing within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on mapping historic cities now underwater, with attention to factors like racial dynamics, changing town infrastructure, and occupations.

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I have always wanted to be a storyteller. As a child, I filled boxes with pages and pages of my own writing. I wrote poems, produced and directed my own plays (that I forced my siblings to act in), authored short stories, and even served as the manager, songwriter, and lead singer of a band I created with my best friend called “Table for Two.”

But I think the true indicator for my future endeavors was in my passion for historical fiction. When I was 9, I wrote about the lives of people who lived in entirely different contexts and time periods than I did, simply attempting to make sense of both the differences in our lives and the interconnectedness of our worlds.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

One class changed my entire trajectory, both in college and life. My first exposure to digital humanities, was an American studies course that led me to study downtown landscapes of 1880-1920s North Carolina, piece together historic maps, dissect historic census records, and recreate the lives and worlds of people who lived decades before us using only public records and digital tools. The professor, Robert Allen — now my adviser and mentor — exposed me to everything I ever wanted to do with storytelling but never knew existed. Two weeks into the class, I declared American studies as my major and applied to become one of Dr. Allen’s undergraduate research assistants.

What’s an interesting/funny story from your time doing research?

When I was in third grade, I acted in a production called “Massachusetts Play.” My only line was “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink until the Quabbin Reservoir brought it to the sink.” I didn’t exactly know what the line meant, but I knew that I had to say it loud and proud on stage. Today, my research focuses on remapping drowned towns. Out of pure interest one day, I looked up “drowned towns in America” and found an alphabetical list. As I scrolled down to the bottom, I read that the development of the Quabbin Reservoir resulted in this disappearance of four towns in western Massachusetts. In that moment, I realized that everything does come full circle.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Pay attention to the little details, consume everything you can, surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable than you are, and seek out available opportunities. Don’t be intimidated to enter a field where most people don’t look like you or share the same experiences. You deserve to be here and your experiences, insight, and knowledge will help shape and progress the fields in which you work.

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