Senior Seminar Papers Presentation 2013
The Western Oregon University History Department initiated the Senior Seminar in 1997 as a requirement for all history majors. The university provost had requested that each academic department develop a means to ascertain whether its majors had achieved the goals of its program. The history faculty quickly recognized that the research, interpretation, and writing were the goals and competencies we wished that our majors achieve. To this end, the faculty created the Senior Seminar. In this course students undertook research projects of their choice, worked closely with professors in developing the project, and then wrote journal-length articles.
To help students develop their research, interpretive, and writing skills, the faculty also created a junior-level course titled, "History Research and Writing." Furthermore, in all upper division courses faculty emphasized the above-mentioned competencies. In this year's seminar, most of the students began work on their topic in one of these courses, supporting their initial work with additional research and reviews of scholarship. Over the past seven years, the faculty has seen a rise in the quality of senior seminar papers and an increase in the number of students choosing to major in history. The following seventeen papers from this year's seminar attest to these trends.
Although by definition, historians study the past, this year's war seems to have influenced the themes that the students chose research. Over half of them studied some aspect of war, with World War II and the Cold War predominating. A trend which contrasts to earlier years is that United States history topics, more than world history topics, attracted the greatest attention. An unexpected consequence of this preference is that our U.S. historians, professors Max Geier and Kimberly Jensen, had to make heroic efforts to advise all these students. Some new topical areas also have emerged. Three students each chose to write on women's history or the environment. Two chose revolutionary movements in Latin America. One chose ethics; another, erotic art.
Not surprisingly in a discipline with a long tradition of revisionism, a number of the students challenged traditional perspectives. One paper highlighted the plight of conscientious objectors in World War II, another, the government's dishonesty about nuclear weapons development, another, a critical view of the Everson ruling, and still another, the failure of paradigms to explain the Zapatista movement.
All students used a combination of primary and secondary sources in their research. In analyzing their topic, they discussed how other historians have interpreted it, and then developed their own thesis. Students wrote two preliminary drafts of their paper, both which their advisors edited, before writing their final draft. Although this process is very time-consuming for students and faculty alike, we feel that the seminar papers are the real testimony of what our history majors have accomplished at Western Oregon University.
John L. Rector
Professor of History