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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