Research in the Social Sciences
This semester, I’m taking a sophomore research seminar called Gender & Migration with Professor José Moya. In our very first class, he told us this class would be part anthropology, part sociology, and part history and function more like a workshop than a class in the sense that the class would lead up to a 14-16+ page research paper on a topic of our own choosing. For this class, I’ve been researching the evolution of the education of Ashkenazi Jewish women from eighteenth century Russia to twentieth century New York.
I’ll admit when I was faced with the prospect of doing historical research, I was intimidated. For one thing, I didn’t even consider that “research” and “history” were two things which went together; I only ever applied the term “research” to sciences like psychology, biology, chemistry, and the like. For another thing, where did I even start with the research?
I think Professor Moya sensed that some of us were not really sure how to go about doing this research effectively so he set up a class dedicated to speaking with the history personal librarian at Barnard. She was extremely helpful in helping us get sorted with CLIO, Columbia’s library database, as well as other history-specific databases for newspapers, census data, and even interviews with immigrants. In addition to consulting with personal librarians, I’ve actually utilized the Inter-Library Loan system I always talk about on my tours but never actually thought I would use to borrow a typewritten (with an actual typewriter) paper from Princeton University.
Being in New York City has also proven to be extremely beneficial in my pursuit of historical information. There are just so many colleges and universities with professors who are experts in the field willing to talk to you about their research in the New York City area. Another student in my seminar was able to speak to a professor at a local university about their research on migration in India-Pakistan partition. Several students used the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library on Columbia’s campus in conducting their research. I went to the Center for Jewish History to aid in my research, a great resource very specific to my topic of study.
Additionally, Professor Moya, who teaches courses on the Jewish immigrant experience and has written dozens of publications on migration, was extremely helpful in helping me find sources for my paper--so helpful, in fact, that my paper (which is as of yet unfinished) will probably be closer to 25 pages. Professor Moya is just one of the many amazing professors in the Barnard History Department. Along with giving us really great feedback on our papers, he also fosters a sense of intellectual curiosity in our class.
All of this is to say that being in a history seminar this semester has made me really excited to write a senior thesis. Everything from the evolution of public opinion about gay marriage to 1920s leisure culture in Great Britain and missionaries in the 1920s anti-imperialist movement in China has been written about in senior history theses of the last few years. I’ve even started thinking about possible thesis topics for my senior thesis. (Don’t worry, it’s absolutely not expected that you have any ideas about your thesis in the fall of your sophomore year, especially since it’s not even necessary for you to have declared your major yet!)