My Civil War students are now in the final stages of their research projects based on the Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia. As discussed in a previous post, this course is structured around the idea of a college research seminar. Students are introduced to the research process from learning how to develop a thesis statements to analyzing various kinds of historical sources. On occassion, students are asked to share their work with the entire class and provide feedback for their peers. What I like about this type of history course is that it places the student in the position of authority. Given the amount of source material contained on the database, students cannot look to me as an authority. They must learn how to interpret and make those judgments. This is a wonderful academic lesson for students about to begin college. In addition to the research process I was able to introduce the class to articles that reflect ongoing debates. The class read articles by James McPherson, Charles Dew, Reid Mitchell, Mark Grimsley, Gary Gallagher, and Peter Carmichael. Students were required to assess each argument (often in comparison with previous articles) by writing a 2-page thesis summary. In the end I hope they have a more mature understanding of how the historical process works. More importantly, I hope they can acknowledge the complexity of past events that lie just underneath the surface.
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