How To Do Research For a Project

I largely teach Introduction to World History, which at my university, is a general education requirement and has no prerequisites. I teach based on skills, rather than content, and one of those skills is research and analysis. So I assign a semester-long research project, and I also assign a series of research process assignments, to give them checkpoints along the way. So many students get stuck not knowing how to do research or even what research really means. This process is designed to help them through the whole process.

I create assignments that first discover where students are – their own personal baseline – and then assess based on improvement from there. It’s open-ended, and helps me assess their progress by asking for more and more analysis and writing from them at each level, culminating in a final project. 

So, to those who would like to know, here’s how I (and you) “do research” and produce a final project.

First: The Topic

Select the topic YOU want to study. You’re doing the work, so you need to be interested in it. If you’re not interested, you won’t finish, or if you do, it will be painful. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. As long as the story matters to someone, it matters. History is the story of human choice, and is marked by change over time. People make choices, other people react to those choices, and the world changes a little or a lot. That’s history – scale isn’t the important thing.

The idea that history is serious and must always tackle “serious” topics is classist, racist, and sexist – because those “serious topics” are political and intellectual histories of government and international politics. So many questions abound about everyday life and how people just like us, but because they’re the histories of marginalized groups like women, people of color, queer folks, and disabled folks, they’ve been minimized. And because several of these topics, like sports, makeup, and fashion, are considered “frivolous” in our society today, many students think these are inappropriate or unacceptable topics for their history projects. 

Ugh. No. Everything has a history. Small, huge, homely or the stories of kings – all of it has value and deserves study. And if that’s what you want to do, then do it.

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Ladies and Soldiers Both: Creating Social Space for Women in the US Armed Forces*

*I gave this presentation at the 2022 Annual Meeting for the Society of Military History in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 30, 2022. The text is more formal than the actual presentation 

          This paper is the first step in my next major project. For today’s purposes, I have considered recruiting brochures from the USMC published in the early 1960s. I am currently considering what the end point of the project should be. I am leaning toward ending it when the military was fully gender integrated in the 1950s, though I am also considering the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force as my end point. I also have brochures published in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  As to why I’m working with USMC only at this point – Covid-19. Many of the archives I want to visit have only recently reopened, so I am working with what I have. I hope to be in the archives in the fall but given how many times I’ve said that over the last 2 years, I’m not holding my breath.

            These brochures offer a unique insight into contemporaneous changes in gender in the military. I have been calling it military femininity – a counterpoint, or perhaps counterbalance, to military masculinity. Military service has long been a route to manhood in the US – a point made explicit in a Navy recruiting poster for men in World War II titled “Healthy Bodies, Active Minds.” The poster showed before and after pictures of enrollees, highlighting their increased weight and muscle mass, as well as their improved posture. The poster text began with the explicit claim that “Men build the NAVY…the NAVY builds Men!”[1] With the arrival of women, the military could not sell itself as a man-making institution without complication. After the war, the impetus to maintain the women’s auxiliaries and later to fully integrate all genders into the military forced a reckoning I am not sure anyone was prepared for.

Manhood is something to be achieved, to be earned through appropriate strenuous activity. Military service fills this purpose, and by World War II, participation was becoming the key to successful military service. Womanhood is something to be protected and preserved – women are granted womanhood by reaching adulthood, rather than through any actions of their own. Military service would actually harm womanhood if it remained only a man-making institution.

I believe that the rhetoric changes in the mid-20th century to making citizens and “true” or “real” Americans instead of making men. Making citizens or making “real” Americans is not necessarily tied to gender, even though the military’s method of making citizens or “real” Americans was still based in earlier, single-gendered military structures and traditions. Recruiting material focuses on the benefits, as always, but over the course of a few decades, dating and marriage rules become less prominent in the recruiting material. World War II materials discussed marriage rules – who could the women date, what married women would be accepted, what happened if a service member married – because these were significant issues for women considering enrollment.

Continue reading “Ladies and Soldiers Both: Creating Social Space for Women in the US Armed Forces*”