When Jack Tilney originally enrolled in LIBR 200 back in Fall 2007, little did he anticipate that his term paper on censorship in the 1950s would evolve into a LIBR 299 thesis project, ultimately earning him the university’s 2012 Outstanding Thesis Award, presented to Tilney by the SJSU President at Commencement this past May.
Tilney’s thesis, Containing Obscenity: The Gathings Committee, Moral Crusades, and Paperback Books, examines the largely untouched archives of the Gathings Committee, a specially appointed subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives in which members were appointed to investigate the growing national threat of pornographic literature, particularly in paperback novels.
“Members of this subcommittee attempted to look at the extent of pornographic literature available in the U.S. during the 1940s and 50s, and looked to see if the laws could adequately regulate the industry of obscene materials,” said Tilney, who during his research scoured The Honorable E.C. Gathings archives located at Arkansas State University and the New American Library Archives at New York University, which holds materials relating to mid-century paperback publishers.
“No one had ever really looked at the Gathings archives before,” said Tilney. “The University of Arkansas had twenty boxes of unprocessed materials – it was a goldmine of internal memos, investigative reports, and letters from women’s clubs, church groups, and parents who were crusading for stronger profanity laws. There was a whole social movement that went with it.”
Tilney was encouraged to develop his historical thesis by Professor Deborah Hansen in LIBR 285 (Research Methods). While he knew that writing a thesis was a huge commitment, doing so supported his greater goal of pursuing a PhD in history, for which he is currently researching universities. “A thesis is a good way to show doctoral programs that you have the skill set and commitment for advanced research,” said Tilney, who ultimately wants to pursue a career in academic librarianship or teaching.
In the meantime, Tilney works at the San Francisco Public Library. While enrolled in our School’s MLIS program, Tilney took courses that focused on public librarianship and archival studies career pathways. As for developing a thesis as a culminating project, Tilney recommends taking LIBR 285 (Research Methods) as early as possible: “It helps you develop your thesis proposal and makes you do that work in a concentrated period of focus.”