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Historiography: A Prize-Winning Course!

Dr. Matt Schumann, history students Ms. Haley Hoffman and Mr. Nick Bowers, and AYA student Ms. Olivia Johnson won the Elliott L. Blinn Award for Faculty / Undergraduate Basic Research for 2020. The prize will be given officially at the Faculty Awards Ceremony on April 6. In giving this award, the university substantially recognizes both the ongoing history research of all three students, and Dr. Schumann’s scholarship on course design for the class in which the students’ research got its start: HIST 3790: Historiography.

As a course, Historiography typically traces the historic evolution of studies about the past—literally, the history of history. While informed by history writers from the Greek poet Homer to Prussian political reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt, this historiography course emphasized a kinesthetic introduction to historians’ current practice. Key to this approach was taking students on their own intellectual journey, not only through history’s history, but through the early steps of modern historians’ publication cycle.

Early in the course, students learned about the cycle, starting with historical speculation, and progressing through data collection, dialogue with sources and colleagues, conference presentations, journal articles, and building up to books. From an early date, they also noted similarities between their own undergraduate papers and historians’ grand tomes, and philosophical continuities with Humboldt’s two-pronged quest for both verifiable and relatable historical ‘truth’. They also wrestled with historic and contemporary theories and lenses through which to view history, including Marxist class conflict models, international relations theories, and Joan W. Scott’s article, “Gender as a Category of Historical Analysis”.

Over the semester, students witnessed Dr. Schumann’s evolving historical work on the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, building up to a conference presentation for the American Society of Eighteenth Century Studies (ASECS) in March 2020. In parallel, students amassed their own sources week-by-week, with totals well into the dozens that included popular sites such as wikipedia and youtube, the BGSU library, a variety of digital collections, and in some cases, materials in foreign languages. By the end, students held a mock symposium of their own, sharing the products of their work in front of each other and visiting history faculty, and proposing presentations to public audiences that included genuine academic conferences, museum patrons, and state and local school boards.

The Blinn Award will support several avenues of further research. Dr. Schumann proposes to tease out further elements of the course design for HIST 3790 that bear discussion and replication among teaching professionals. Mr. Bowers hopes to continue working on the 103rd infantry division, including a visit to their unit archives in Mississippi. Ms. Hoffman desires to present to a medieval studies conference on the Edington-Chippenham campaign of 878 CE, and what may have been a military revolution in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Ms. Johnson seeks to present to an early American history conference on the excommunication of Anne Hutchinson, and intersectional identity politics in early colonial Massachusetts.

Nick Bowers: History 3790 really did help me better understand the way to do research as well as how historiography shapes the narrative, we all see. And this was done in a fun and engaging way which kept me invested in my research and encouraged me to continue it past the end of the semester this past December. The part of the class that got me the most excited was the prospect of filling a hole in mainstream historiography. As my project progressed, I became increasingly interested in the concept of personnel replacement and its effect on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. I planned to use the 103rd Infantry Division in Europe as a case study but as I researched about the topic, I noticed there was very little scholarly work written about the logistics of manpower during the Second World War, and little mainstream historiography focused on cohesion apart from some sporadic mentions in larger texts. Finding this hole, and then having the potential to fill this gap with my own work made me excited to continue my work, and I would not have discovered that without this class. I am really excited about potentially contributing to the study of logistical history in a meaningful way.
The aspect of class I learned and have applied the most is the publishing cycle for historical scholarship. In most classes in my undergraduate and high school career, the focus is to research materials, and then immediately write a complete essay for final evaluation. Often feedback during the writing and research process is somewhat limited. While this is of course not true for all classes, and that is not to say it is not a positive experience for the student who is learning the historical trade, it does not reflect the true journey of academic scholarship before publication. In the professional world, work is continually growing with feedback from fellow historians, and frequent presentations where the current status of the work done can be shown and invite comments. This class was able to replicate that in a controlled and supportive environment which encouraged frequent amendment of the students’ work. This class has opened me up to the prospect of going to a conference in the future, in order to present my findings. Since the class has ended, I have looked into the possibility of submitting a paper for presentation to the Society of Military History or a similar organization in 2021.
The Blinn Award will help me with my research beyond 3790. I have been accepted into the history MA program here at BGSU for fall of 2020 and am considering continuing my research into that level and using it as the basis for my thesis. Specifically, I would like to use the grant to visit the archives of the 103rd Infantry Division at the Dale Center for War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. These archives contain many primary source materials pertaining to the actions of the unit during its service life, as well as several unpublished memoirs from members of the unit. Donated to the archives in 2015 by the 103rd Infantry Division Association, these materials have been largely unused since. I believe these primary source documents about the logistics of maintaining a unit in the field and the experiences of American veterans will greatly help my future research. I plan to use the funds from the Blinn Award to visit the archives and use their materials for support for a potential conference presentation of for a potential thesis.

Haley Hoffman: When I first took HIST 3790: Historiography I was not sure exactly what to expect. From the beginning, Dr. Schumann began teaching us the methodology for historiography and how we could use it outside of the classroom. A few of the things that I found unique about his class were the process of learning about publication and presenting in front of different audiences. Students were encouraged to get into dialogue with published historians, which helped me to feel as if I could research a historical topic and successfully participate in contributing to work that was already in the field. I was inspired by this method of teaching because it gave me the courage to attempt expanding my experience by furthering my research project and submitting proposals to different conferences. My research project focuses on Alfred the Great and his military operations during the time of Viking invasions in the eighth and ninth centuries. I focused specifically on the logistics of the
Battle of Edington and the campaign that occurred afterwards. This event would lead to the
Anglo victory over the Vikings, ultimately halt Viking expansion in Anglo-Saxon England, and set the stage for England’s future unification. My research dives into the reasons why the Anglo-Saxons were able to overcome the Vikings during this time.
I am very thankful for having been a member of the group chosen for the Elliott L. Blinn Award, and am excited how it will help me to expand my project further. One of the things that I hope to do is attempt to attend an academic conference such as the Summer Medieval and Renaissance Symposium this coming June in St. Louis to present the results of my research so far. Possibly presenting at a conference will also allow me to learn from others who are professionals in the field and who are experts in my area of study. My aim is that this experience will lead me down the path to travel to England, my projects focus area, and research the vast primary sources in their archives.