Meaghan Harrington ’19 once believed her inability to focus on one interest or a single area of study reflected poorly upon her. “I labeled that as uncertainty, and in a lot of places there’s really no space to be indecisive,” she recalls. “It’s viewed as a negative thing.”
But at Hollins, Harrington says she has been able to immerse herself in a liberal arts environment that encourages exploration and self-discovery. “It always frustrates me when people talk down the liberal arts, because the opportunity to do whatever I want and dabble in all these different fields has opened my eyes to new conclusions. Eventually, I found a mishmash of things that work for me.”
“Meaghan is what I’d describe as a ‘big thinker,’” says Associate Professor of History Rachel Nunez. “She really exemplifies the power of a liberal arts education to help students find new ways of thinking and being.”
Harrington’s quest to find the right academic combination included considering majors in international studies and gender and women’s studies. Ultimately, she landed upon double-majoring in history and classical studies, but she’s never hesitated to continue embracing any topic that she finds compelling. “I’ve taken classes in fields from environmental studies to music, and most recently I’ve been really interested in dance,” she notes. The latter helped inform her choice to examine in her senior history thesis the rhetoric of Mormon women on the female body in the late 19th century.
During the summer of 2017, between her sophomore and junior years, Harrington brought her interest in archaeology, a field that has fascinated her since fifth grade, to fruition. She performed six weeks of hands-on fieldwork at the annual Archaeological Field School in Jamestown, Virginia, site of the first permanent English settlement in North America (her research is detailed in this article). The following February and March, her desire to work in a diverse cultural setting was realized during an internship with the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan. Then, she continued growing her experience in archaeology as a volunteer with the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.
Field excavation is drawing Harrington back to Jamestown this summer for an internship that she says is designed to help “demystify archaeology.” She will help conduct research on The Angela Project, an effort to explore the life and landscape of one of the first recorded Africans brought to English North America in slavery. “I’m excited to contribute to the creation of more diverse stories about the past,” Harrington says.
She adds that she is especially looking forward to using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to collect data at the site. A GIS captures and analyzes spatial information and offers a wide range of applications, from the study of history to urban planning and architecture. “With this software-based technology, you can create maps and three-dimensional images,” she explains. “It’s the perfect way to visualize everything in which I’m interested.”
Harrington is so excited about GIS and its possibilities that she will be completing a post-baccalaureate certificate in the field, and employing the knowledge she gains to determine her future educational and career plans.
“I’m probably going to graduate school at some point, but in the meantime I think I will spend a couple of years in the field using GIS. The creativity in that work will certainly help me to define my future interests.”
In other words, no matter where life takes her after Hollins, Harrington will go on thinking big.