Thinking critically. This is what Susan G. Hamson does on a daily basis as the university archivist and the head of Access Services and Operations of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. She credits her education at Rutgers-Camden with helping her to develop this all-important skill. In 1995, Susan graduated from Rutgers-Camden with a master of arts degree in American history, with concentrations in twentieth century urban history and eighteenth to twentieth century women’s history. “I enjoyed the intellectual discourse,” she says, noting that her classmates, many of whom had full-time day jobs and worked on their graduate degrees at night, enriched the classroom experience because of the real-world insight they could offer. She also cites history professors such as Drs. Rodney Carlisle, Janet Golden, and Philip Scranton as essential to her growth as a scholar. “They challenged me and made me a better writer,” she says. “It was – and is – a real privilege to live in South Jersey and get a Rutgers education.”
Susan’s passion for ancient Egyptian history is what first set her on the path to becoming a history major. She started her undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied for two years. While at Penn she had the opportunity to work at the university’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, and was assigned to the photo archives department. In the department, she found a drawer of odds and ends, with no real place to go. Susan set out to find where everything should be housed, and in the process she discovered that she had a talent for bringing order out of chaos.
Susan transferred from Penn to Richard Stockton College, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in historical studies in 1993. She knew she wanted to build on her undergraduate history degree, and she knew she wanted to eventually obtain a job that allowed her to interact with people who studied different periods of history. For this reason the public history program at Rutgers-Camden appealed to her. After she graduated, she started as an archivist assistant/project cataloger with the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, eventually working her way up to the title of archivist. She also spent time as an archivist at the Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University before ultimately ending up at Columbia University, where she’s worked since December 2004.
A typical day as a university archivist guarantees only two things: there will be challenge, and there will be reward. Always busy, Susan’s job can have her trolling eBay for rare Columbia University items, fundraising, answering research queries, and organizing exhibits like the one which is currently on display, “100 Years of Journalism at Columbia.” Despite her often chaotic schedule, Susan loves that her job allows her the opportunity to meet new and interesting people, such as Erica Jong, who had been a hero of Susan’s since she was thirteen years old. “Rutgers-Camden provided me with these experiences because it gave me the academic skill and insight necessary to take on this important job,” she says.
In addition to her work as an archivist at Columbia, Susan teaches at the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science. She enjoys teaching, having spent eleven years as an adjunct lecturer at Camden County College. At Pratt, she teaches “Management of Archives and Special Collections.” In this course she and her students think critically about the archival profession, and also speak about the practical manner of finding employment after graduation. “I think I’m a born educator, just like I’m a born archivist,” Susan says.
Susan attributes much of her success to her education at Rutgers-Camden, where she was pressed and encouraged to think critically, an asset that she says is priceless and has helped her tremendously in her career. We here at Rutgers-Camden are thrilled by Susan’s achievements, and are so happy to have been a small part of her climb to the top.
About Susan G. Hamson
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA/Haddonfield, NJ
Graduate Program: History
Graduate School-Camden Graduation Date: 1995