Undergraduate Research Opportunities in History
At West Virginia University the Department of History provides our majors with the opportunity to conduct historical research in original sources. Research is a key component of advanced-level courses and capstone projects, and our students have undertaken research projects that range across time and space. In addition to the capstone and advanced-level courses, a program has been established for students who wish to work closely with faculty beyond the classroom as a research assistant. This initiative aims to expose undergraduate students to what life as a historian entails. Collaborating one-on-one as an assistant with the faculty member offers students the opportunity to work extensively with primary sources, including letters, memoirs, diaries, government memoranda, laws and court cases, as well as statistical tables, novels, material artifacts, images, and newspapers. Students also apply historical methodologies to help evaluate sources, interpret evidence, and construct arguments. Through this collaborative experience with faculty members, students embark upon an experiential learning process that is planned, supervised, and evaluated for credit (HIST 497).
Students also have the opportunity to present their research at various forums: poster displays at the Annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Charleston, or at the university research days, which are held in April. Others have presented a portion of their research in a formal paper at the Regional Phi Alpha Theta Undergraduate Research Conference or another conference. Through this interaction with faculty, students learn how their research training and skills can be applied to a variety of careers in higher education, law school, business, federal and state government work, and public history.
"Undergraduate Christine Odom presents her Hist 497 research at the Annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Charleston."
Recently, students in the HIST 484-Historical Research Capstone courses have completed papers on a variety of topics.
connections between public housing and the civil rights movement
Verdean identity and Black Power in New Bedford, Massachusetts
comedy of activist Dick Gregory
desegregation efforts in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta
and ethnic violence during World War II
looting by the Nazis
varieties of Eastern European Fascists political parties during the World War
As part of the Undergraduate Research Skills Program (HIST 497), students have assisted faculty members on a variety of projects, from examining how news of wartime conditions in German Central Europe appeared in the British press during the Napoleonic Wars, to reviewing and compiling information on Historic Property Inventories (HPIs) from the WV State Historic Preservation Office, to working with World War II soldiers’ letters from the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) collection.. Here are some sample testimonials from students who recently participated in the program:
- Morgan McMinn worked with Dr. Kate Staples on a project that looks at the secondhand trade in late medieval England and northern France (1300-1600). Morgan states: “I have read and analyzed Chancery court cases from medieval England that Dr. Staples has transcribed/translated for me. In those cases I have analyzed rhetoric, gender expectations and manipulations, and I’ve looked at goods in the cases and analyzed how they were being used within the case. I have also compiled all of the cases onto an Excel sheet and reported my weekly findings on a research log . . . [this experience] has also helped push me in a way normal history classes haven’t. It helped develop my critical and analytical reading skills and continues to do so, almost every time I come back to a document I find something new.”
Childs served as a research assistant for Dr. Krystal Frazier, assisting with
her book project on African American family kinships. Josh reflects: “Primarily,
I would conduct research on civil rights activists’ experiences, while
combatting Jim Crow and white supremacy, in terms of their upbringing, their
family life, their relationships with other civil rights activists, and their
personal anecdotes about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement . . . As a history
student, I would definitely say this program helped me develop into a more
critical thinker. As I stated, I was challenged in ways that I would not have
received in the classroom, especially when it came to revising plans of attack
or overcoming a wall in the research.”
"Undergraduate Josh Childs presents his research at the Phi Alpha Theta Undergraduate Research Conference."
As part of the Undergraduate Research Skills Program, students can receive credit for HIST 497 in a number of ways:
- Students can contact a faculty member directly, or a faculty member can contract directly with a student they have had in class to work on the faculty member’s project.
- Each semester, a list of available research opportunities with faculty will be e-mailed to all History majors. Interested students should contact the faculty directly.
- Students who have already done a research paper or project, but want to develop it further for a conference paper, poster presentation, publication, etc., can contact a faculty member to help mentor them in the process.
Any student taking HIST 497 for credit will need to complete the following:
- At the start of the semester, the student and faculty member will agree on terms of what will be completed during the semester, as well as how the work will be evaluated. The terms and expectations are to be set out in a formal HIST 497 Contract, available here: [History 497 Contract]. This contract must be submitted to Dr. William Hal Gorby in 220A Woodburn Hall.
- At the end of the semester, both the faculty member and the student must complete a HIST 497 Evaluation Form and submit it to Dr. William Hal Gorby. The Evaluation Form is available in the History Department Main Office in 220 Woodburn Hall.
Undergraduates interested to learn more about undergraduate research opportunities in History should contact Dr. William Hal Gorby, Director of Undergraduate Studies (William.Gorby@mail.wvu.edu) for more information.