By: Laresa Lund, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, History and Communication and Public Advocacy, Bloomington
During my first year of my studies at IU, I silently wondered what it actually meant to do “research.” A professor would mention research they were doing for a book; an upperclassman would talk about research that they were presenting at a conference.
I didn’t really know what they meant and was nervous to ask for fear of sounding dumb. Were they reading books? Sitting in musty attics, flipping through old newspaper clippings? Sitting at microscopes?
Sure, I had written research papers using online journal articles and books from the library. I had even used primary sources, but none of that seemed prestigious enough for the title of “research.”
Later that year, I declared my history major. I began to learn about research methods and resources available to us through the university such as JSTOR and the Lilly Library. A few of my professors took us on trips to Wells Library, where librarians showed us how to use the IU library catalog, IUCAT. We were then sent into the stacks to find our books. Walking through the endless shelves with my stack of books, I felt kind of like I was doing real research, but how could I be sure?
Last semester, I took a course called “The History of Motherhood,” with Professor Sarah Knott. For our final project, we were required to conduct an oral history interview and incorporate that into a research paper. I interviewed some members of my family for the oral history, and used some of their old parenting manuals as primary sources. That felt like research, but still, it was just one paper. Could I really call that research?
This semester, I began my internship with the Office of the Bicentennial. I work as an resident assistant on campus and have always been interested in where people live when they go to college. I often think about how college experiences are shaped by our physical dwellings. Because of this, I chose to research the history of residential life at IU. Where did IU students live throughout the past 200 years? How did that shape their college years? I decided that a digital timeline would be the best way to present a clear history of housing. I was excited to conduct real research.
The Office of the Bicentennial was wonderful and provided the interns with helpful training on research resources as well as presentation technology. During our first meeting, we took a tour of the IU Archives and learned how to find materials in the collection.
I figured that that would be a good place to start. On my first individual visit, I sifted through the files of old and new dorms on the IU campus, including Alpha Hall, Trees Center, and Briscoe Quadrangle, to name a few. These files hold old newspaper clippings, brochures, flyers, Board of Trustees meeting minutes, press releases, correspondence, and more.
The information was so interesting. It seemed like there were endless clippings to read through, photos to look at, and dates to record for my timeline. Feeling I couldn’t miss a single detail, I spent hours on each file. I wrote down important dates for my timeline, such as the date that dorms opened, and when major renovations occurred.
That week I met with my internship advisor, Indiana University Historian Dr. James Capshew. I told him about my progress and the time I had spent in the archive. I also mentioned that the archive seemed a bit overwhelming—there was so much to read, and only a semester to do it!
He explained that the researchers job is to draw from existing resources, as well as primary sources. To establish a skeletal timeline, he suggested that I work with existing histories of IU and pull housing information from them. This would be a good starting point.
Following this advice, I read parts of Indiana University, Midwestern Pioneer, a four volume history of IU, “The House that IU Built,” an honors thesis that an IU student had written about the history of women’s housing at IU, and “Veterans of World War II at Indiana University,” a doctoral dissertation that included some information about IU housing after World War II. Using these sources,
I was able to construct a fairly extensive timeline. I included dates when dorms were built, renamed, renovated, closed down, repurposed, or demolished. I also included information about the types of students that lived in these dorms, the rules in place for residents, and what their living spaces were like.
With a rough draft of my timeline, I was once again ready to go to the archives. This time, it was much less overwhelming. I looked for specific information in the files, and was able to clear up some points on my timeline.
For example, I looked for the specific date that a dorm opened, instead of the year. I took photos of artifacts that I could include in my digital timeline. I was able to find relevant articles that were not in the archives by looking through old Indiana Daily Student microfilms.
Along with those resources, I consulted online pages that the University has published, such as a digital timeline and the University Master Plan. I also met with my external mentor, Residential Programs and Services Assistant Director of Human Resources, Chris Lucas, who has connected me with retired IU alumni who can answer some questions I had about the dorms.
Going forward, I will tie up the loose ends of my research, polish my captions, collect more photographs, and use Timeline JS to create an online timeline.
The project has been extremely informative and interesting. I learned that for half of the past 200 years, IU did not provide official housing for students—it was not until 1919 that the university rented an official university dorm. I’ve learned a lot about changes in housing, notably how men and women were separated and how minority students were made to live in alternative housing for some time.
I’ve also learned that research can be incredibly difficult and tedious but also incredibly rewarding. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can do real research. And I hope that the Bicentennial intern projects can show you that you can do research as well, no musty attics necessary.