Morgan Brittain: Helmerich Center for American Research Fellow

If you think you’re a fan of Charles M. Russell, wait until you meet Morgan Brittain, our Helmerich Center for American Research Charles M. Russell Short-Term Fellow. As a member of our inaugural program, he joined us this summer to explore the portrayal of boats by Russell and how they represent the rapid adaptation of technologies in the late 19th and early 20th century. Learn more about his research and our fellowship programs in the video below.


I’m Morgan Brittain, I hail from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m in the MA program there in Art History and I’m the Charles M. Russell short-term fellow here at the Helmerich Center for American Research this summer.

So, my project deals with the depictions of boats in Charles Russell’s work. I’m thinking about the ways in which boats in Charles Russell’s work reflect not only the time he’s working in, he’s working late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but also how they reflect his views on that time. So, the ways in which the world is really adapting relatively quickly. Technology is advancing at a relatively rapid pace, so I’m thinking about those sorts of ideas in my research.

The reason I’m here is that there is this amazing collection of the Charles M. Russell research collection, also known as the Britzman Archive. It’s got 11,000 objects, I think. It includes correspondence, includes photographs, sketches, other art objects that have been really interesting for my research. So, I’m really fortunate in that the Britzman Archive, the Charles M. Russell research collection is all digitized.

So, when I was thinking about research projects I really had this dramatic interest in the depiction of boats in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and I was looking at places to potentially do my research, and because there’s this digitized archive here at the Helmerich Center for American Research, I was able to sort of start mining through these photographs, sketches, these other archival materials that are located here in advance of my visit. You have an opportunity at the master’s level to do independent research.

It’s a great sort of footing to be on as I go further in my academic career, as I go on for a PhD to have this experience doing archival research, having the space to really read through some secondary scholarship as well as theory as well as invest in these primary materials that are here in the collection is just totally invaluable and something that frankly you don’t have the time for during the school year. So, I’m grateful to be here and really excited about the opportunity and all the things that I’ve found this summer.

I think the real standout from the trip, you know, I had the opportunity to look through the digitized version of the archive, but nothing really replaces going through the physical archive, so I think the real stand out is just the sheer quantity of material that I was able to get from this trip. It’s a totally unique experience to have a really rich archival resource in one building and be able to walk, just really, you know, twenty steps across the parking lot into the other building, the Gilcrease Museum, and be able to see all these priceless works by Russell, it’s really and frankly invaluable as an art historian to be able to do not only archival research, but also be able to see the objects that you’re dealing with, and to be able to do both of those things in the same place, it’s pretty incredible.