Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hi everyone, and I hope you're all having a good semester too.

My only contribution to the blog so far has been a short and remorseful apology and a hideous photograph; but I have been thinking about my project. Basically I hope to create for the history department (as part of its web page) a site that will help students to advance their research (and writing) skills by providing them with a guide as well as a storehouse of links to primary source sites--of which there are many. This will not be like my John Jay website, which is outdated and targeted in any case to a different level of student; instead, I want to focus solely on (1) the use of primary texts in history papers and (2) the manner in which students at an undergraduate and graduate level conduct research utilizing secondary sources and library skills (and outlets such as Jstor, EEBO, etc). Perhaps as an add-on, I would also include a link to a site that displays the best of our history students' writing across all fields. In this way, it could be a guide providing model templates of good essays, as well as a kind of online journal that would reward the best of our students' work.

Right now I'm teaching a graduate course in historical research and methodology, and I'm struck at how students even at that level--and most of them are extremely bright--tend to get a little lost when it comes to issues such as gathering sources, locating archives or other collections, or even generating questions and theses around their ideas. I've also gotten an educational experience myself, since I'm trying to reach Americanists, non-westernists, modernists and others not in my field by locating resources and sites that would be of help to them. Primary source sites abound, emanating from the Library of Congress, the Avalon project at Yale, and elsewhere. One great resource site in general comes out of Princeton (, and I'd like to link to that or model my proposed site on it while also tailoring it to our students and the research available to us here in New York.

There are also other possibilities: faculty and student workshops (such as Amy's) could be advertised on it, faculty could contribute comments targeted at students, other workshop possibilities could be included (I'm thinking about one centered around the Louis Armstrong archive here at Queens--though most of our students don't work at that level yet, it might be a good way to show students the excitement of searching through/handling primary documents--though I'm not sure the archivist would be too thrilled! Or, someone from the collection could simply contribute on his/her own). Anyway, it's all a start.

Obviously my project is an ambitious one, and as an untenured professor with a number of research and book deadlines ahead of me, I can't do it all this semester. But I'd like to start what will hopefully be an ongoing project, and of course I'd love to have input from all of you (in fact, a lot of what we're doing seems to intersect). Anyway, if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you all again.


Blogger Jason Tougaw said...

Hi Sarah. This sounds like a fantastic project--immediately useful and grounded in sound ideas about teaching and learning. I've heard similar stories from faculty in many departments about students lack of experience with research. It really makes me think that the research component of the new gen ed. curriculum needs to be a significant component.

The idea of bringing together links to primary sources and research guides that will help students navigate and work with them is inspired. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it.

You might take a look at Gordon Harvey's short book Writing with Sources. It might help you come up with some ways to take an extra step and address students' needs in terms of writing about or with all this material once they gather it.

I'd imagine it would be helpful to use this first upcoming meeting as an opportunity to figure out what's manageable this semester and what you'll do later.

By the way, I can offer a CUNY Writing Fellow to help with research, developing handout and exercises, etc. This would be an excellent use of his time, I think.

6:30 AM  

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