The idea that a small discovery like a photo can lead to broader research is just one aspect of scholarship that she hoped to impart to the undergraduates who worked with her this summer.
“Some of them have had more experience doing this kind of research than others, but they all ask very good, generative questions, and you can see the spark of interest that inspires them,” she said. “We met [online] as a group and shared our questions and helped each other trouble-shoot. That was the best part of this project in many ways, to help them see that even though research may seem like a solitary process, you’re part of a community of scholars.”
Norwood shares that interest in helping students develop what might become a passion for historical research. The topic of race is especially meaningful to students right now, he said, because of the current discussions and demonstrations that remind America of its history of slavery and struggles for civil rights.
“Historians might choose a topic to study because they look at current issues and want to examine how we got here,” Norwood said. “For these undergraduates this summer, it was important to give them the opportunity to conduct independent research and to learn what’s involved in the process. I wanted them to see that these questions about racial inequality, which are so much at the forefront right now, are living questions. And they were living questions in the past, too.”
In their project proposals, the students drew connections between their historical topics and current issues. For research on the 1918 flu, for example, student Sharon Ruiz noted the racial disparities in infections and deaths during today’s coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. That was true in 1918 as well, she wrote, asking how deeply racism was embedded in daily life and how resources to fight the flu were allocated:
“The Spanish Flu of 1918 gives us answers to these questions because in a time
of unexpected crisis, the officials who are designated with protecting their people show who they truly care about,” Ruiz wrote.
For Laini Farrare, the research was an opportunity to look into the history of Black college students’ experiences in Delaware.
“I will seek to compare the experiences between Black and white students at the University of Delaware,” Farrare wrote. “These include classroom experiences, dormitory living and social experiences. I would like to see if any policies at UD have addressed diversity gaps. I also want to look at how the experiences of Black students at Delaware State University compare to those at UD.”
All the projects have wider implications, Norwood said, noting that accounts of racism and social justice “aren’t strictly Delaware stories or strictly UD stories; they’re American stories.”
The undergraduate students who participated in the summer research were Gaby Lara, Laini Farrare, Sharon Ruiz and Leah Hetrick, all at UD, Rutgers student Monben Mayon and Temple student Emily Collopy.