Research is at the core of our discipline and a key skill for History majors. Our undergraduates engage in research in many forms from lower division courses through to graduation. Students are able to gather evidence from a wide range of online databases, materials in campus libraries and the extraordinary collection of original materials from all time periods and regions held in our campus research centers like the Harry Ransom Center, the Briscoe Center for American History, the Benson Latin American Collection and the LBJ Presidential Library. Read about some of the many ways in which our undergraduates engage in research as a fundamental element of the training in our major.
UT History students produce top-notch research, frequently winning scholarships and awards for their work. In 2019, for example, the History Department celebrated five awardees of the prestigious Rapoport-King Thesis Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded by the College of Liberal Arts in honor of Audre and Bernard Rapoport and Robert D. King and generously provides $3,000 in research support to undergraduate students who are writing an honors thesis.
History majors also regularly make a strong showing in the Undergraduate Studies Writing Flag Contest and in a variety of scholarship competitions across the university and beyond. For stories about recent years’ award winners, see: 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, 2014, and 2012.
Above, L to R, clockwise: 2019-2020 Rapport-King Thesis Scholars Alexander David Wallis, Anna May Roberts, Johann A. Rossbach, Monica Gabrielle Oatman, and Carol-Armelle Ze-Noah
Thinking Like A Historian
“Thinking Like A Historian” (HIS 320W), is a sophomore-level seminar for History majors or students interested in History as a discipline to learn key research skills in preparation for upper division classes. Students learn to read, write and think like historians––that is to understand history as an academic discipline in terms of research methods, evidence, and analysis. As Prof. Julie Hardwick explains, while undergraduates often think history is just a list of facts about the past, in reality “History is the way that we use evidence to explain and interpret what happened in the past. They need to shift from thinking about history as the facts they learned in high school — sometimes wrong facts — to understanding that we are an evidence-based discipline. That’s a big change for most undergraduates.”
Read more about the goals of the course in UT News. This course also plays an important role in fostering community among History majors. “The Department of History makes a concentrated effort to create a community for history students,” says alumni of the course Sam Thielman. Read more about the course from the perspective of a recent student in The Daily Texan: "Thinking Like a Historian' Course Builds Community among History Majors."
Research at the Gems of the University
At UT, students have access to world-class collections and facilities for historical research, including Blanton Museum of Art, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, Harry Ransom Center, LBJ Library and Museum, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, and more. Undergraduates encounter these “gems” on campus through field trips, research seminars, and independent projects. For example, students in Prof. Lina Del Castillo’s class Latin America in the 19th Century have drawn on materials from the Benson’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection to curate exhibits entitled Latin America’s 19th Century: A Work in Progress and Reflections on Modernity, Memory, and Identity. Virtual versions of the student-created exhibits can be explored at https://latinamericanviews.omeka.net/exhibits.
Above: Dr. Rosario Granados-Salinas, Associate Curator of the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Spanish Colonial Art Collection, leads seminar discussion with Prof. Deans-Smith, at the Blanton Museum.
Publications and Media Featuring Undergraduate Research
UT History students generate publishable research. Student research has appeared in publications ranging from Not Even Past to the peer-reviewed journal Hispanic American Historical Review. The work of UT undergraduate historians has also been featured in Ms. Magazine and The New York Times. A variety of courses integrate publication. For example, twelve of Prof. Emilio Zamora’s HIS 320R, “Texas, 1914 to the Present,” wrote articles on Mexican Americans in Texas that have been published in the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online. As part of their work in Prof. Juliet E. K. Walker’s HIS 350 seminar, "History of Black Entrepreneurship in the United States,” students develop content for the Undergraduate Journal of Black Business History. The journal is an interdisciplinary forum for undergraduate students to share work on black entrepreneurship, published under the auspices of the UT Austin Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology, founded and directed by Prof. Walker, who notes it is a form of entrepreneurship in its own right, offering students a rare opportunity to produce and publish their own work while expanding the literature on black business history. y.
Above: Undergraduate Journal of Black History, Vol. II, Issue I. Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship, and Technology. Click here for a look at the Table of Contents.
History faculty frequently serve as mentors as part of the College of Liberal Arts Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP). Student research apprentices in History get experience conducting rigorous historical research and structured, one-on-one mentorship with History faculty.
A total of five undergraduates were paired with History faculty through this program during 2017-2018. Prof. Erika Bsumek’s apprentice April Cavin recalls, “Overall, this experience has been amazing. It has given me the opportunity to work one on one with one of my professors, getting personalized feedback and advice as needed. I was able to ask questions based on her previous research in order to aid my own, learn how to use databases more effectively and experience contacting archives across the states to get more resources.” Likewise, History major Brendan O'Neill, who worked with Prof. Sam Vong explains, “The URAP was one of the first times in my college career where I really felt like I was doing what I had applied to UT to do. I was doing in-depth research on a historical topic that I found interesting, reading through primary sources written by prominent historical figures on the Vietnam War and the devastation that came along with it. Being a history major, I couldn't have hoped for a better experience than the one I had in the URAP.”
For more information about the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program and other undergraduate research opportunities, see COLA’s Undergraduate Research FAQ page.
Above: Gabriel Loehr worked as a URAP research assistant to Prof. Jonathan Brown and presented, “General Omar Torrijos: Líder Máximo de la Revolución Panameña.”
History students use a variety of digital historical tools in their research for courses. Undergraduates curate online exhibitions using Omeka, film documentaries and videos to share their research, create interactive timelines and maps using TimelineJS and StorymapJS, and much more. Dr. Penne Restad has incorporated digital scholarship throughout her HIS 317L course, “Reading U.S. History between the Lines.” In this course, students examined a set of recently uncovered archival documents from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The documents related to the court case of Phebe Martin, a free woman of color born near the end of the American Revolution, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. When taken into the newly created Mississippi Territory, she managed to get her case before a court, where a jury issued a document setting her free. Dr. Restad’s class transcribed the handwritten court filings using the tool From the Page, and and examined them at high magnification at the Vizlab, and blogged about their process and discoveries. Find out more on their website Searching for Phebe.
Students also learn digital skills through internships and independent research projects. Honors student Jennifer Levin, for example, worked with Dr. Restad to create a digitized, geo-temporal exhibit that explores the development of the UT campus through layered maps and archival materials (explore the project at campushistory.la.utexas.edu). In 2018, the History Department appointed three undergraduate interns to work on the implementation of a new digital history project to foster geographical literacy and spatial analysis in history classes.
Above: Dr. Restad’s class views handwritten court filings at Vizlab. From the class web site Searching For Phebe.
Research Projects in Lower Division Courses
Students in lower division history courses explore research in a variety of ways. In Prof. Erika Bsumek’s HIS 317L "Building America" course, undergraduates explore research questions in small group projects that explore roughly 100 years of building in American society. The course focuses on the ways in which politicians, architects, engineers, urban planners, construction workers, naturalists, environmentalists, novelists, filmmakers and the American people approached the relationship between large-scale infrastructure projects and social development. Read more in Life & Letters.
Above: Brooklyn Bridge, New York City. © Paul Souders/WorldFoto, 6836 16th Ave NE, Sea/Corbis.
History Honors Research Theses
Students write senior theses on the research topic of their choice, supervised by faculty members in the relevant areas and under the overall direction of Honors Director, Prof. Denise Spellberg. Read more about the department Honors Program and view the annual Honors Research Symposium program for spring 2018.
Left: Senior thesis writers of the class of 2017.
Research Posters and Presentations
Historians don’t just do research, they also have to communicate it effectively, both in writing and in person. UT History students have many opportunities to practice sharing their research, from in-class presentations to public talks and poster sessions, such as the Longhorn Research Bazaar. Confident public speaking is a key skill for history students––and one necessary for many careers. By designing and presenting research posters, students learn how to summarize complex arguments concisely, combining visual, oral, written, and oral elements. You can browse a collection of research posters authored by UT history students here or view those on exhibit on the first floor of Garrison Hall.
Above: History Honors student Alexandra Dolan presents her research project “Identity Crisis: The Post-WWII Reconstruction of the City of London” - view the poster here.
Research in History 350 seminars
History 350 seminars are upper division Independent Inquiry courses that challenge students to delve deeper into historical research. Students in these seminars can expect to get hands-on with primary sources. For example, a small group of students in Prof. Julie Hardwick's“Law and Society in Early Modern Europe” seminar created and analyzed a database of 100 court cases (see their presentation "How to Get Away with Murder and Other Crimes in Early Modern England”). In 350 seminars, students also learn how to synthesize and communicate their research with broader audiences. Students in Prof. Daina Ramey Berry's “Black Women in America” seminar researched the lives of black women to create wikipedia entries to correct the historical record.
Recently, students in Prof. Laurie B. Green’s “Women In Postwar America” created a documentary film “Fight Like A Girl: How Women's Activism Shapes History” based on their own oral history interviews with women’s liberation activists who attended UT or lived in Austin in the 1960s and 1970s. These interviews will be archived at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. For more on this project, see Life & Letters and Ms. Magazine.
Above: Students in Prof. Green's 350R “Women In Postwar America” seminar. Photo courtesy of Maria Hammack.