Samuel Harper, the Search for Answers, and the Heart of Research

– written by Griffin Creech, SURF Recipient

A 1916 photo of Harper attached to his passport. Photo courtesy of University of Chicago Special Collections Archive, Samuel N. Harper Papers, Box 3, Folder 2.

A 1916 photo of Harper attached to his passport. Photo courtesy of University of Chicago Special Collections Archive, Samuel N. Harper Papers, Box 3, Folder 2.

The Cold War. American intellectuals. The Russian Revolution. What do these terms make you think of? Your mind probably flashes to duck and cover drills, men wearing bowties and monocles, and Lenin. In order to get to know a man who probably wore a monocle and, certainly, a bowtie, I spent this summer in the University of Chicago’s Special Collections archive examining thousands of documents dated between 1916 to 1921. This intellectual was Samuel Harper, professor at the University of Chicago from 1915 to 1943, the first American to devote an academic career to studying Russia, and the protagonist of my senior honors thesis in history.

I set out to examine Harper’s intellectual role in forming American attitudes towards the Soviet Union. As I stood in front of the archives before beginning my research, I thought I knew what I would find inside: a record of every lecture and exam that Harper ever gave at the university. These documents, I believed, would show me how Harper interpreted the Russian revolutions of 1917 to undergraduates in his classes and how he used his academic position to form a strictly intellectual framework for interpreting Russia that would become important during the Cold War. I had a preconceived answer to my research question, yet no evidence to confirm it.

Yet, that day I found letters linking Harper to American corporate tycoons including Henry Ford and International Harvester Corporation executives. As my search continued, other similar documents emerged until I was at an impasse. Was Harper really just a university professor, or was his intellectual and political legacy more complex?

The University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library and the home of the Samuel N. Harper Papers. Photo courtesy of Griffin B. Creech

The University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library and the home of the Samuel N. Harper Papers. Photo courtesy of Griffin B. Creech

It turned out that Harper was far more than a professor. He spent most of 1916 acting as a go-between for American business interests, informing them on how to claim a stake in the economic renaissance that he believed was transforming Russia’s “backward” economy and political traditions. Optimistic over the country’s prospects for democracy, Harper broadcasted his analysis in American newspapers, speeches to civic groups, and a shockingly small amount of university lectures. His interpretation, I discovered, had little sympathy for far-left parties like the Bolsheviks, who came to power in 1917. So, Harper had helped to construct the Cold War’s intellectual framework; he simply hadn’t done it in the way I expected.

This conundrum perfectly encapsulates the research experience that my SURF made possible this summer and summarizes what I would change if I could repeat my experience: not beginning my research with a preconceived notion of what I would find. If I had to leave my readers with a message, it would be that the foundation of research lies in understanding what we don’t know or in disproving that which we accept. Having one’s preconceived notions challenged is a positive thing, and I would argue that it is exactly this that a SURF makes possible. So, apply for one, get ready to have your ideas challenged, and accept that knowledge stems from being open to an array of answers.

Research in Oral History: LGBTQ Activism in the NC Triangle Area

-written by Aaron Lovett, History and Communication Studies, Class of 2017

-editor Monica Richard

Before coming to UNC last fall, I thought research was something only done in the physical and life sciences. So when I heard about undergraduate research, I imagined chemistry and biology majors spending all day in a lab, manipulating a plethora of confusing technical instruments, wearing huge goggles and white lab coats, examining bacteria, and conducting experiments on mice.

Ian Palmquist Photo source: http://tiny.cc/brp8jx

Ian Palmquist
Source: tiny.cc/brp8jx

That was not at all where my interests were. But during my first semester at UNC, I took a research-exposure first-year seminar in history, and through that course realized that research could be done in any subject. After hearing about UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), I decided I wanted to apply for the chance to conduct research of my own.

As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community, I wanted to learn more about being queer in the Southeast United States, an environment historically hostile to queer people. Throughout American history, people who are now collectively identified as LGBTQ have been branded as deviant, ignored, and hated.

Alexis Gumbs Photo source: http://tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Alexis Gumbs
Source: tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in the South have exacerbated this issue. Making matters worse, there is a slim amount of studies and literature on LGBTQ topics in general, let alone LGBTQ issues in the south.

However, through the Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill, I learned that oral history was a valuable method for learning about oppressed groups of people whose history is not thoroughly documented in official texts. So, I began an oral history project on LGBTQ activism in the Triangle area, to learn about queer history firsthand from people who have devoted their lives to shaping it. My second semester at UNC, I received the Pine Tree Fund SURF for research in LGBT Studies to fund my research.

For the project, I interviewed hardworking local activists such as Ian Palmquist, Alexis Gumbs, and Carlton Rutherford. Ian Palmquist, a UNC alumnus, is the former Executive Director of Equality NC, a statewide LGBTQ political action committee, and currently works at Equality Federation, a nationwide advocacy organization.

Pastor Carlton Rutherford Photo source: http://tiny.cc/6op8jx

PR Carlton Rutherford
Source: tiny.cc/6op8jx

As an experienced lobbyist and political activist, he offered valuable insight into how various progressive lobbying groups helped pass the NC School Violence Prevention Act in 2009, the first law in North Carolina history to include the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity,” and the first piece of legislation in the South to include the phrase “gender identity.” Carlton Rutherford has been a pastor for several years at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, which offers an all-inclusive space for religious members of the LGBTQ community. His experiences as a gay man of color and clergy member brings to light the many intersecting identities of LGBTQ people. Alexis Gumbs is a queer feminist activist whose work documents the histories of queer black elders; she received her PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and is a widely published writer on LGBTQ topics. Younger than most of the activists I interviewed, she was able to not only add a queer woman of color’s perspective on LGBTQ activism, but also represent a newer generation of progressive activists.

My research experience taught me two critical things. First, that there are people from myriad and diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups, who share many of my past experiences. The ability to speak to and learn from them has been invaluable. Second, not all learning happens in the classroom – rather, some of the most valuable knowledge is gained through personal experience. There is so much you can learn by going out into the world and actually finding knowledge, archiving it, and reflecting upon it. And this process of retrieval, documentation, and analysis benefits not only the individual researcher, but the community they are a part of as well.
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Irish Flute-ing

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

written by Kieran McCarthy Fell class of 2013

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

As a flute performance major, I am passionate about participating in and hearing music from around the world. One of the most gratifying aspects of musical performances is creating a bridge of communication between people of different cultures. Though most of my training and studies have been in the classical settings of symphonies, wind ensembles, and orchestra pits, I am always eager to absorb musical influences from new sources, like my recent experience with the indigenous music of Ireland.

This past summer, I received funding for a research proposal that allowed me to visit a few regions in Ireland to hear a variety of performances in Irish settings such as local public houses and community centers.  There were also festivals to attend throughout the year, like the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan at the University of Limerick, which encourages the preservation of heritage. By interacting with the musicians in these environments, I hoped to discover whether or not inflection, embellishment, and dramatic interpretation of traditional (trad) tunes vary from region to region, as dialects do, and what Irish flute technique and interpretation has in common with classical performance.

Through my training and practicing I learned that the most integral aspects of Irish trad music are: (1) understanding the specific time signature end feel of each tune type; the steady, fast 4-4 drive of the reel, the quick 6-8 lit of the jig, and the bouncy hornpipe, and (2) learning the unique ornamentations and including them in tunes spontaneously throughout a session. In traveling to several counties in Ireland, I learned that musical differences between regions have more to do with the types of tunes played than the embellishments used. Reels, Jigs, and hornpipes are frequently heard in most places, but in counties like Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, the most common types of tunes are slides and polkas.  Regarding ornamentations, the basic types are consistent between regions, yet vary from player to player as part of the musician’s individual style.  Because of the impromptu nature of trad music, the selected ornamentations that are added are different every time a tune is played.

Reel Tune

Jig Tune

Hornpipe Tune

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

Due to the variety of differences in playing techniques, my research did not result in a concrete way to link classical and traditional flute playing.  However, my time immersed in trad music and Irish culture made me fully aware of how powerful music is, despite its apparent simplicity.  The intuition and originality of each individual musician produced a vital, sparkling, almost tangible music characterized by a sense of joy and abandon in the quick tunes that contrasts with the achingly, compelling depth of the slow airs.

Irish music is not tied to the classical concert hall, but is deeply intertwined with daily life in close-knit communities.  Trad tunes and instrumental accompaniment for dancing, singing, and storytelling have been passed down through generations in homes, community centers, churches, public houses, and festivals.  It was through these public sessions that I truly allowed myself to become swept up in trad music.  The height of my learning of trad music came during the annual Fleadh Nua (“new festival”). The Fleadh Nua helped me understand that taking advantage of every chance to play for someone else, whether in a session or at a competition, is even more integral to learning trad than taking frequent lessons or practicing alone.  Soon I could say that I am a real trad player.

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

                    

Kieran McCarthy-Fell is currently a programming and productions intern at the Irish Arts Center, in New York City.

McCarthy-Fell received partial funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office for Undergraduate Research, the 2013 Witten Travel Award, the Class of 1938 Fellowship Endowment committee, and the Chapel Hill Music Department Mayo Award.

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In With the New – OUR Welcomes New Ambassadors

UNC - Chapel Hill with Graham Memorial in the background

The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
with Graham Memorial in the background

written by Daijha J. Copeland

As nine ambassadors turned their tassels to officially become Carolina alumni in May, we welcome a new group of highly-qualified and enthusiastic undergraduate researchers. With experiences ranging in disciplines from Art History to Biology to Political Science, our new ambassadors offer a diversity of experiences to share with the Carolina community. These ambassadors have worked on timely projects such as: how specific RNA molecules distribute controls the division of zygotes, the role of suicide in the plays of William Shakespeare, further development in C. elegans, and the development of a thermoelectric vaccine cooler. Check out the ambassadors’ page to get to know all of our ambassadors and the other enriching projects that they have been a part of.

The ambassadors program was created for undergraduate researchers to be used as a resource to advocate for undergraduate research to university leaders and to serve as peer mentors. Ambassadors frequently host meet-and-greets with fellow students and give presentations on research opportunities offered through OUR and the greater university. And of course ambassadors are here to provide information, make faculty introductions, or answer any questions, so feel free to contact them for any assistance navigating Carolina’s research filled world.

If you have research experiences that you would like to share with other undergraduates and would like to apply to be an OUR ambassador, look for the call to apply in early spring. Below are the OUR ambassadors for 2014-2015.

Lauren Askew Biology /Spanish for the Medical Professions Minorlaskew@live.unc.edu

Jordan Bishop Chemistryjwbishop@live.unc.edu

Emily Cerciello Health Policy and Management & Economicscerciello@live.unc.edu

Sarah Cooley Geoscience-Geophysics/ Math and Religious Studies Minorsswcooley@live.unc.edu

Clark Cunningham Chemistry & Biologychcunnin@live.unc.edu

Sarah Faircloth History & Art Historyscfaircl@live.unc.edu

Blake Hauser Environmental Health Sciences & Biologybmhauser@live.unc.edu

David Joyner Political Science & Englishdbjoyner@live.unc.edu

Sloane Miller Environmental Health Science & Engineeringskm0709@live.unc.edu

Rizul Naithani Clinical Laborarory Science/ Chemistry Minor

Layla Quran Global Studies/ Journalism Minorlaylaquran@gmail.com

Sam Resnick Biology/ Chemistry Minor sresnick@live.unc.edu

Jay Zhang Biostatistics & Quantitative Biology/ Chemistry Minorjczhang@email.unc.edu

Zijian (Larry) Zhou Chemistry/ Computer Science Minorzzhou1@live.unc.edu

 

Writing with a Lens

written by Caroline Kirby (Class of 2012: Honors in Comparative Literature and a major in French)

I am coming of age in a time when image and sound are replacing the written word in many forms of communication. Even significant life events are flashed on Instagram before they are summarized on Facebook, or, in an even more archaic form, detailed via e-mail. As a Comparative Literature major, research became the outlet for me to both rediscover the written word and translate it into today’s audio-visual language.

Liberte

Statue of Madame la République
location for one of the 17 October protests

Dr. Inger Brodey’s Comparative Literature 250 course challenged me to interpret literary works of art through disciplines such as music, art and film. Just as Romantic poets rewrote Classical epics in the context of their experiences, so contemporary filmmakers rewrite novels and short-stories through the lens of a camera. We studied how syntactical elements in prose, such as punctuation and sentence structure, can be communicated through audiovisual media.

The next semester, I discovered in Dr. Valerie Pruvost’s French 310 course a topic ahead of its time, captured not through text but through image and sound. According to Benjamin Stora’s La gangrene et l’oubli (La Découverte, 2005), trans. Gangrene and Oblivion, the French-Algerian War (1954-1962) remains largely undocumented in contemporary French history. As I discovered more about this “guerre sans nom” (war without a name), I came to understand these events were not recorded on pages but on the streets of Paris and Algiers, captured only by rare photographs (see Elie Kagan’s) and oral histories (Leila Sebbar’s La Seine Était Rouge (Thierry Magnier, 2003), trans. The Seine Was Red).

A Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship provided me with the resources to continue the work of historians Jean-Luc Einaudi and Benjamin Stora in filling in the blanks of history books surrounding the French-Algerian War. I took particular interest in the traumatic events of October 17, 1961 in Paris, France. On that night, thousands of anti-war protestors left their homes to march peacefully through the streets, yet hundreds were never seen again. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, historians, writers and activists were calling the French government to acknowledge the Paris Massacre, and I was among them.

RF

Insignia of the French Republic
outside a prison where some of the protesters were detained

Informed by the work of Einaudi and Stora, I traveled to sites in Paris where violence had occurred on the night of October 17, 1961. I was largely unimpressed. These train stations, statues and cafés seemed shrouded in the prosaic din of vehicles and passer-bys, none of whom slowed to take notice. I yearned to honor those whose lives were lost there, communicating their stories in the audio-visual language of my time. I returned to Chapel Hill with hundreds of photographs and hours of footage, and, with FinalCutPro and my narrative voice, began to write the story of the Paris Massacre.

The following academic year, I had the opportunity to present my work at Virginia Tech University’s ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference and at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium.  I was thrilled to continue my discovery of unwritten francophone histories through a Fulbright Research Grant to Geneva, Switzerland following graduation. Image and sound have become my way of writing, and the lens has become my pen. I am grateful for those professors who taught me the languages of literature, film, French and Arabic, and for those mentors who gave me the confidence to write in my own.

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Capturing the Past in the Present

written by Olivia Dorsey

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Olivia Dorsey B.S. Information Science Afri Amer &Diaspora Stds Minor  from Clayton,NC

Olivia Dorsey
B.S. Information Science
Afri Amer & Diaspora Stds Minor
from Clayton, NC

Upon entering into Carolina, participating in undergraduate research had never crossed my mind. I just wanted to hone in on my technical abilities to produce websites and graphic designs, which was my passion. After taking an African, African American, and Diaspora Studies course my sophomore year, I acquired an interest in African American Studies. After hearing about the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) from a friend who was a recipient himself, I was convinced to apply.  I decided that I would use my SURF experience to challenge myself; I would combine my two passions for history and technology. The skills in web development, which I had developed in my years at Carolina, would allow me to create a digital collection, preserving damaged historical photographs from families in the area.

To conduct my project, I traveled to Franklin, North Carolina where I would be able to digitize the family photographs of those who may or may not realize the historical or sentimental value. Many people had their photo albums tucked away, and had even forgotten about them. Yet when asked to see the photos, they were eager to relive those memories and take me along for the journey.  By the end of the project, I created FranklinMemories.com, a website, which holds about 200 photographs and several interviews capturing Franklin’s past.

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart Franklin, NC

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart
Franklin, NC

In Franklin I created bonds with people there that I will continue to cherish. Next semester, I will be attending the School of Information and Library Science, at Carolina, in pursuit of a Masters of Information Science to study the Digital Humanities. Because of my SURF project, I want to pursue a career as a developer of Digital Humanities projects.  I am not only focusing on web design, but also 3D modeling, motion graphics, and other avenues that I feel will only enhance historical projects. I really hope that by creating these projects, I can continue to make local history accessible to those within the community who may not know about their history or who may not have the means to access it.

I encourage anyone who is planning to pursue a research project, whether funded through SURF or not, to be persistent. If your project is something that you are passionate about, you will be able to find a way to make it happen. But I also think that in order to make your project successful, you must be willing to challenge yourself. divider

Inspiration Within and Outside of the Library

-written by Elizabeth “Liz” Tolleson

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

B.A. History Major from Pleasant Hill, CA

Elizabeth “Liz” Tolleson
B.A. History Major
from Pleasant Hill, CA

After graduation I plan to seek a career creating comics based upon historical people and events. I felt that in order to do comics about history, I needed to know about my female predecessors and the history of comics. To that end, I chose a research topic that paralleled with my career path. My topic focused on 19th and 20thcentury American female cartoonists and their contribution to the field of comics. I began my research sitting in front of the computer and searching databases, then I soon realized that I needed to be more active in my approach.  While visiting a friend in Chicago, I decided to visit the world renowned  University of Chicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library where I did some preliminary research on their databases. This visit confirmed my suspicions that I would have to do a lot of digging to obtain the information on female cartoonists that I was looking for.  I trudged along and then visited the Art Institute of Chicago’s library to use their database. I was able to read a catalogue from a 1989 art show on cartoons and a thesis done by a student at the Art Institute in 2000. Slowly but surely I was finding the pieces to the puzzles that aimed to create.
Along with diving into the unknown of archival research, I also stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to THE woman in the realm of female cartoonists, Trina Robbins. Robbins founded the underground comic Wimmen’s Comix in

First Female Cartoonist: Rose O’Neill Photographery: Gertrude Kasebier, from http://thecarbonworks.com/blog/?p=1459

First Female Cartoonist:
Rose O’Neill
Photographery: Gertrude Kasebier
from: http://thecarbonworks.com/blog/?p=1459

the 1970s and continues to write and publish comics and graphic novels today. She has also spent the last few decades researching, writing and publishing histories of women cartoonists in the 19th and 20th centuries, and has done much to preserve the history of many women cartoonists who would have been otherwise forgotten, especially the first woman cartoonist, Rose O’Neill. Robbins has inspired and encouraged other women, like myself, to continue researching, writing about and publishing information on women cartoonists.

During my meeting with Robbins, she encouraged me to attend the annual Copper Con convention in Mesa, Arizona.  CopperCon is a convention hosted by The Central Arizona Speculative Fiction Society where fans of science-fiction and fantasy come together to listen to and meet authors, check out shows, and purchase collectable items. When I got to CopperCon I connected with Robbins who introduced me to Liz Safian-Berube. Safain-Berube was the only female illustrator employed by DC Comics during what is known as the Silver Age of comics (1950’s-1970’s). Safain-Berube shared her perspective on the significance of women cartoonists working during the 20th century. Being able to meet Robbins and Safain-Berube along with my database searches in libraries and museums has provided me with a well-rounded view of 19th and 20th century female cartoonists and deepened my understanding of my research topic.

 

 

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‘An active creation’: Oral history and race and equality in Chapel Hill’s public schools

-Written by Grace Tatter

[Brown vs. Board of Education] was the single most important moment in the civil rights movement, its most enforceable intervention, and its most powerful statement. But Brown was not all that we could have had or all that was due the South. (Glenda Gilmore, Defying Dixie)]

UNC alumna and award-winning historian Glenda Gilmore implies in Defying Dixie, that the success of Brown and the subsequent school desegregation in the ‘50s and ‘60s is often overstated

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The dominant narrative suggests that equality was achieved when black and white students began to attend the same schools. In fact, there is a litany of other factors required to ensure equality, not least of which is communication between communities that, even today, are separated by the legacy of Jim Crow.

The opening of the Howard and Lillian Lee Charter School offers an interesting jumping off point into the discussion of racial equality, and the history of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS). The new school, founded by the daughter of Chapel Hill’s first black mayor, is marketing itself toward the African-American community, with the stated intent of reducing the racial achievement gap.[1] Some fear it sends the message that desegregation did not work, and that Chapel Hill should give “separate but equal” another shot.

In an oral history conducted in 2001 by the Southern Oral History Project, Fran Jackson, who helped desegregated Chapel Hill’s schools as a middle school student, described how miserable her experience as a black student at Chapel Hill High School was, and how little she saw change for her daughters, who attended school in Chapel Hill.[2] “I don’t think anybody was courageous enough to step out and say that we need to do something to assure that these students feel more accepted and more comfortable in class,” Jackson said of her experience in the 1960s.  “They just said, ‘Wow… maybe it’ll get better with time.’ And to be honest with you I don’t think that it has gotten better with time, because if it had then we would not see this wide gap in terms of academic performance,” Jackson said. Jackson’s experience demonstrates the importance of examining the tensions in CHCCS.

I decided to tackle this subject by conducting my own oral histories. As an academic discipline, oral history is often less about cold, hard facts, and more about the sense and perception of a period. Oral history is particularly valuable for expanding historical research to include “ordinary voices” or the “inarticulate;” it allows historians to draw on the experiences of people who will not necessarily be considered “important” enough to have their papers archived in Wilson Library or be written about in newspapers, but still have valuable insights on what it felt like to live in a certain time period.

Recently I interviewed David Kiel, now leadership coordinator at the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence, who worked with Upward Bound, a federally-funded summer enrichment program on UNC’s campus that aimed to create the equal educational opportunities promised by Brown v. Board of Education. Kiel described how the black students he worked with needed that space to talk about desegregation, which for some was a discouraging experience. Of desegregation, Kiel said, “…it did represent a victory against the Jim Crow regime, yet it certainly did not fulfill the best hopes and wishes of their parents and civil rights activists.”  My interview with Kiel illustrates the complexity of the community and the issues being studied.

Oral histories add nuance and understanding to research on issues that are missing from official documents. I have spent many hours in Wilson Library looking at microfilms and sorting through stacks of school board minutes. However, the face-to-face interactions I’ve participated in through oral history have added a new dimension to my research.


[1] Ferral, Katelyn. “Lee Charter School hits delay.” Chapel Hill News, June 12, 2012. http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2012/06/12/71726/lee-charter-school-hits-delay.html (accessed February 21, 2013).

[2] Interview with Fran Jackson by Christa Broadnax, 23 March 2001, K-0208, in the Southern OralHistory Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

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UNC Faculty Spotlight: Don Reid, UNC Professor of History

Written by Dr. Don Reid, Professor of History, Alan Feduccia Distinguished Term Professor in Research and Undergraduate Education

What is research and why is it important?

My wife is not an historian. She’s a director at a big RTP firm. However, I’m struck by her response when people ask her where she learned what she needs to know to do this job. “By majoring in history and researching and writing an honors thesis (in which she argued that the culture of dueling presented a new way of understanding nobles in Louis XIV’s  France).” She never went to business school. She explains that what she learned doing history was how to formulate a question so she could research the answer, how to research, how to analyze the research, and how to present it. The important thing she took from her experience in history was not knowledge of events in 1066 or 1789, but the skill, craft and importance of doing research.   I teach and mentor researchers not to create new versions of myself or of my wife (!), but to give students ways to address issues and questions they will confront in their post-graduation lives.

Research takes different forms in different disciplines and within disciplines themselves. However, it incorporates certain components. The first and sometimes most difficult is formulating the question, deciding what one wants to find out and convincing others of its importance. Intellectual life is a conversation. On very rare occasions, a researcher may make the case that a problem no one has ever recognized before requires study. But even then, the researcher addresses discussions in contemporary research to show how the current conversation misses the big point. More common is the situation in which an intellectual conversation has proponents of a diversity of positions and the researcher develops a project which will allow these positions to be assessed in a new way. In so doing, the researcher makes herself a participant in the conversation, someone who will need to be listened to and challenged.

Why can this be the most difficult element of a research project? Because it requires entering the conversation with something new to say with which current participants will want to engage. We all know that participants in an ongoing discussion often show little desire to let a newcomer get a word in edgewise. Historians can be drawn to the arcane, to “their” subject that no one has studied before. However, researchers in all fields need to ask why their subject has not been studied before. There are thousands of things that could be researched, but only a few worth researching. What makes a subject worth studying is if the researcher  can convince others that they want—that they need—to know about it because it responds to questions they may or may not have realized haunt the “already known” of their conversations.

What I am calling the subject is a question or questions that engage others and ways of answering these questions. The methods used to answer these questions are what many think of when they think of research: reading archives, interviewing individuals, etc. However, the best research both keeps the research focused on answering the questions one began with and frequently stops and asks if the results of the ongoing research suggest the need to reframe the original questions or pose new ones.

Research is often presented as a heroic quest in which the scholar overcomes obstacles—closed archives, subjects who won’t talk—and triumphs. However research is rarely a story of a clear path with obstacles confronted and overcome on the way. It’s not that simple.  Researchers often begin with a sense of what they will find and when they don’t find this, they despair. Why am I doing this? Will anyone care? Researchers can feel that they are first to have run into these walls for, as any psychiatrist will tell you, no one’s despair is the same as anyone else’s. However, these are often the times when research is most fruitful. After all, if the results could be clearly forecast from the beginning, why bother pursuing this research? To the couch. This is the time for therapy. Absence is data too. If the data doesn’t exist or doesn’t tell the researcher what the researcher thought it would, maybe the research is revealing something radically new, unaccounted for in the already known of the ongoing conversations. Often adjustments have to be made in the research strategy. After all, the researcher is not following an existing path; she is forging her own.

Sometimes research is characterized as lonely because the intermediary phase between identifying the conversation and coming up with results that allow one to enter it may be done (in  the humanities and social sciences) in libraries or archives, but this “loneliness” is more complicated. On the one hand, researchers are most successful when they engage with fellow researchers as they pursue their work. And mentors are there to ask questions, make suggestions (“What makes you think that?’) during the aforementioned therapy sessions. But research does have an individual component (even when a group is doing research together) and being an individual does mean being on your own. This can be a difficult element of research for many of the best students who excel at mastering the material they have been presented and asked to master.  Research requires one to go solo in ways that go beyond good time management and other such skills of the successful student. Coming up with questions, ways of addressing them and responding to inevitable disappointments are first and foremost the work of the individual researcher. Know how to ask for guidance and recognize that if all the advice you are given feels unhelpful that may be evidence that you are thinking about your work and presenting in ways you need to revise, though not necessarily in the ways others suggest.

However this individual, perhaps lonely, element is also an important part of the reward of research. I’ve never worked with a student who didn’t take great pride in the fact that her research was at once hers—not someone else’s knowledge she was told to learn—and that it was knowledge she had created and convinced others they needed and wanted to know. The final element of a research project is presenting it to others in a way that helps them understand the project, the results and their significance. The most successful researcher starts by recognizing the positions and work of those already engaged in the discussion and shows how her research opens up their work in new directions.

To return to my wife and her honors thesis, research is not just for students who want to become teachers or researchers. These were never her goals. It is for people who want to be “deciders,” those who set the agenda, rather than simply follow agendas others set. It is, in sum, the heart of a successful liberal arts education.