Chapter Activities

Experiential Exercises

(1) Oral Histories

(a) Select a historical event or process that occurred before you were born, but more than 50 years in the past (e.g., the lunar landing, racial segregation).

(b) Locate three people who were alive during this time period and has some experience with this event (for this reason, major national or regional events or processes are preferred). If possible, identify three people who were likely to have had different experiences (i.e., don’t choose members of the same family).

(c) Ask those people if they would consent to give you an account of their experiences. Make sure to meet all ethical requirements regarding human subjects! If possible, secure their consent to tape record the interview.

(d) Prepare a series of questions about that event. You will want to begin the interview with a grand-tour question, such as “Could you describe to me your experiences with . . . .”).

(e) The interviews should primarily be directed to having your interviewees give as much detail as possible about the events. 

(f) Using these interviews, construct an interpretivist account of the event in question. 

(g) In a final section, comment on how the history learned from these interviews differs from your personal understanding of the event (or from the event as it’s portrayed in history books).

(2) Have groups pick a demographic topic covered by the Census Bureau surveys: marital status, race, age, immigration, unemployment, and so forth. Generate a question based on the topic (e.g., Is the population getting younger? Are there more Native Americans than in the 1920s?). Each group should present their results to the class as well as the details of the steps necessary to answer the question. Was all of the data available? Did some data have to be taken from other sources? Were those sources reliable? How do you know? Did gaps in the data preclude a clear answer to the question? What were the problems with your data and how would you correct them?

(3) Each group should select a major recent event of interest. (They can also select a more obscure event if they want to do a lot more searching!) Ask the group to develop an event-structure analysis diagram of the event. Remind them to be as thorough as possible and invite them to use whatever sources are available to them. Each group should present their analysis to the rest of the class. Alternately, you can assign a single event to each group and the analyses can be compared. This is a good way to demonstrate the difficulty of establishing a thorough event structure analysis.

Individual and Group Activities

(1) Organize students into four separate groups. Each group will conduct the rudiments of a research project using one of the four historical and comparative designs (see Exhibit 11.1 and definitions on page 339). The topic will be the same for all four groups: the interlocking of political institutions and the state. The approach to the topic may take the form of any of a variety of questions generated by the group, but there will be only a single question driving the study and research strategy. Students should design their research project based on an interesting but feasible question. In addition, groups may select either a quantitative or qualitative design utilizing deductive or inductive methods. After developing hypotheses (where appropriate), identifying data sources and search strategies, groups will proceed to answer their question. A brief report of the various stages and results will be presented to the class. Limitations and methodological problems related to carrying out the project should be described in a final section.

(2) This exercise allows students to collect primary and secondary historical documents. Ask them to:

(a) Select a historical event of interest. Try to select an event that is somewhat local in nature that occurred at least 50 years ago.

(b) Locate any academic journal articles you can find on this topic and review them. These are secondary sources.

(c) Locate newspaper archives in your library. Newspaper archives for older newspapers are often housed in a microfilm/microfiche area. If you are unfamiliar with using microfilm or microfiche, please ask the librarians in attendance for assistance.

(d) Based on the date(s) of the event selected, look up the local, regional, and national newspapers for articles on this event. Read all relevant news articles. These are primary sources.

(e) Compare the stories in the historical news articles to the journal articles. How does each portray the event under study?

(f) If you were going to write an article about this event, how would you improve on the articles you’ve read based on the material in newspaper articles?