I was lucky enough to get to present at the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities conference a few weekends ago. I am a history major, and my research was therefore historical. Given the nature of history research, it is rare that undergraduates are able to assist in research, much less present it. I have a few friends who’ve presented psychology and chemistry work, but I figured that there wouldn’t be similar opportunities for undergraduate work in history. Work in the field specialized, and there isn’t much for a research assistant to do besides organize papers—the researcher has to actually read everything and write about it. That’s why I was so excited to work for Professor Nunley on her DC Criminal Court records project over the summer. Also, Professor Nunley is a wonderful educator and I loved the class I took with her, so working for her was a privilege.
I didn’t expect to get to do history research, much less present it, but Professor Nunley informed us of the UNRH Digital Humanities conference and my coworkers and I applied. We were accepted, we sent in our various logistical information, and after a five-hour drive, made it to Michigan and the conference. The people were friendly and Michigan was nice, if cold. The schedule was pretty straightforward—student presentations, a keynote speaker, and various workshops. My group had to leave before the proper end of the conference, considering the five-hour drive, but we were there for most of it.
The presentations of undergraduate research were diverse and fascinating. A few were history-related, but there was work on education, activism, infrastructure, accountability, and culture. Getting to see the range of digitally based research was eye-opening, and I got to see digital mapping techniques and record collection used in ways I hadn’t considered before.
Getting to present my own research was really invigorating. The exhibits my coworkers and I created over the summer were drawn from a base of 1840s DC criminal court records we transcribed into more legible, easily preserved digital documents. We then each picked a few document that we found interesting and wrote about them. My exhibit analyzed the language used in cases of assault on various classes of citizens in antebellum DC and the way race relations actually affected the dispensation of justice. When presenting our research, we gave some general background on the project as a whole and then delved into the specifics of our exhibits. We got some great questions, and the opportunity to explain the ‘whys’ of our project as well as the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ helped me get a sense of the way research is presented at higher levels of academia. The whole experience was educational, both in regards to the content of student work and the insight into academic procedure, and left me excited to continue my research this summer.