How Torsten Edstam’s (PhD ’14) “European scavenger hunt” unveiled new opportunities for him

by Zainab Imam


Frustrated and stressed by all the long hours he spent at the Regenstein Library while earning his degree, Torsten Edstam (PhD ’14) would often feel forced into one career path: academia. But his summer internship at The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, which he found through the Emerging Leaders Initative (ELI), changed all that.

“I discovered that there are significant benefits to learning how to apply my academic training to other career paths,” Torsten says of his internship experience. “After doing the internship, I can provide informed answers when people ask me how organizations and businesses can benefit from the special training that academics receive.”

The ELI seeks to provide students at the Social Sciences Division a broader understanding of their opportunities, expand their range of professional options, improve their professional training, stabilize their financial circumstances, and reduce their time to degree.

“The ELI Internship Program is a bridge that allows people outside the academy to learn what doctoral students have to offer them. At the same time, it enables those of us inside the academy to gain exposure to careers in other fields. I believe that this is very important for making sure that academic training retains its viability, especially for students in the social sciences and humanities,” Torsten says.

As a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University, Torsten’s interest lay in Medieval European History. His dissertation, which he defended earlier this year, was titled “From Twelfth-Century Renaissance to Fifteenth-Century Reform: The Reception of Hugh of St. Victor in the Later Middle Ages.” In this project, he examined how 15th-century monastic reformers in the Low Countries, Austria, and Bavaria used Hugh of St. Victor’s (c. 1096-1141) writings in order to promote their own programs for renewing the discipline of the religious life.

As part of his research, Torsten spent a year in Germany on a Fulbright fellowship, doing archival research in Munich and Melk, Austria where he developed a strong background in German and learned how to acquire the permissions required to republish images from universities and national libraries in Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. These technical skills made him an invaluable member of the Getty Research Institute’s publications team.

The Getty brought him in on a team that was working on a new translation of Heinrich Wölfflin’s Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (1915), which was a work on early modern painting, sculpture, and architecture. There were 110 illustrations in the original and the editors of the new edition wanted all those images.

“It was like a Europe-wide scavenger hunt! I had to track down these images by finding the museums and galleries where they are housed, figure out who had the rights to them, and then get digital copies and publication permissions. I was quite surprised at how easily my research skills seamlessly transferred to this new job,” Torsten says.

“A lot of the art in the first edition turned out to be misattributed. However, researchers reattributed many of these works during the last century, so finding some of the images was quite difficult,” he explains. This was a problem he had encountered before during his dissertation work when he was using 15th century manuscripts that were littered with misattributions.

But this wasn’t the greatest challenge of his job or the only time when his superior research skills came to his aid. “[In the original] there was a photograph of a palace in Munich. The image rights belonged to a publisher there who had printed it in the late 1890s. Wölfflin  used the image in 1915. The main problem was that during the Second World War the publishers’ offices and store were completely destroyed. I had to work with them to track down the book where the original image was published, so that we could take a photo of it and then republish it.”

At the end of his 10 weeks at the Getty, Torsten realized how many options he had where he could apply his training for purposes other than academia. “The ELI internship was an outstandingly positive experience. I cannot recommend it more highly. At the time I defended my dissertation, I thought that a career in academia was my best option. But in only a few months, so many other options have presented themselves that I’m now facing the new problem of choosing which career path to follow. Even if I choose to stay in academia, my internship experiences will be invaluable for helping me explain to future students the value of advanced training in the social sciences and humanities.”