Are. You. Ready to Research?

Ashley Munoz

Do you have a particular interest in learning more about a specific topic? Maybe the history of IPAs? The historical-cultural significance of your favorite novel?

UC Santa Barbara offers undergraduate students several opportunities to research, develop their critical thinking and writing skills, and advance their interests and passions. Countless students have taken advantage of the many programs and opportunities offered on campus. The current pandemic has not deterred our students from challenging themselves to produce a culminating project showcasing their efforts. Opportunties abound for students to explore their interests: from the history department’s requirement to various research programs to rare funding opportunities.

The History Department requires its students to participate in a quarter-long research seminar under the supervision and guidance of a faculty advisor who specializes in a specific area of history. Articles published in our first issue were written for such classes! This winter quarter brought us research seminars in African History, Public History, Modern British History, Japan, Modern China, and Public Policy. If you are reading this and you just finished one of these seminars: share your project with us! You can submit that paper now.

While you might not know it from its name, the Faculty Research Assistance Program (FRAP) offers students the opportunity to work closely with a UCSB professor. Students can earn credits and can conduct research in any discipline, so you can study anything your heart desires!

History faculty are currently offering three different research projects for students: Professor Digeser’s project on emperor Constantine; Professor Cobo’s project on archival materials from Tunja, Colombia; and finally, Professor Rappaport’s project on the history of public relations and its ties to decolonization. While a research assistant’s responsibilities vary based on the project and the professor, all projects offer you the chance to learn critical research and professional skills. Students working with Professor Rappaport are using Google Sheets/Forms to build a PR professionals database. Those working with Professor Cobo are doing paleographic work (the deciphering of historical manuscripts). 

There is also something called the McNair Scholars Program. This nationwide program is geared towards students from underrepresented communities in academia. McNair Scholars gain the opportunity to participate in academic year and summer research activities and attend courses, seminars, and workshops to help prepare for graduate school. They ultimately complete a research project with the guidance of a faculty mentor. They can then present this work at local, regional, and national conferences!

According to the faculty director of UCSB’s chapter, Professor Miroslava Chavez-Garcia, the pandemic has limited students’ ability to conduct archival research, fieldwork, and other labor. Like all of us, student researchers have had to adjust by relying increasingly on digital resources or literature reviews and secondary source literature. Current McNair Scholar, Wren Palmer, is researching the cultural preservation of Pacific Islanders in new media. Unfortunately, Palmer could not study in O’ahu because of the pandemic and found it challenging to set boundaries between work and self-care. 

Yet the program continues to offer close guidance and mentorship, “from carrying out research, applying to schools, writing personal statements, and submitting their work for publication.” Palmer, in particular, describes her mentor Professor Spickard’s methods, as inspiring, encouraging, and enthusiastic. Such mentorship is vital to your growth as a scholar.

UCSB has sought to make research accessible and affordable. It offers all students a variety of grants to encourage participation in its programs and independent study. Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities (URCA) grants provide students with up to $750 to conduct research or other projects supervised by a faculty member. All grant winners present their findings at a public forum. The opportunity to research something that excites you while also getting paid to do so is a rare one. We urge you to apply!

Professor Miroslava Chavez-Garcia notes that undergraduate research can be “the turning point in a student’s career.” It allows students to re-imagine themselves as more than students. They become researchers “creating new knowledge but also about the significance of their role in this process.” 

Certainly, UCSB offers ample opportunity for students to realize their academic potential as well as pursue their interests. Palmer’s advice. Select a topic about which you are passionate. “Your end product reflects your excitement and dedication to your project,” Palmer explained, “so having fun and taking time to enjoy the research you’re conducting is so crucial.”

While doing undergraduate research might be required of history majors, the opportunities to make this your own are many. We encourage you to do so.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to study something you love!

Image Credit:

“Faculty Miss Seeing Students, Too”: A Year of Zoom

By: James Ferraro

This week marks the first anniversary since the Covid-19 Pandemic mandated remote teaching at UCSB. Because for many of us, studying during the pandemic has been difficult, we asked three professors how they altered their teaching practices to improve their students’ educational experience and if they had any advice for us as we head into the spring quarter.

When we asked Professor Giuliana Perrone, a legal historian of the Reconstruction Era, she explained that prerecorded lectures have allowed students with busy schedules to take her classes. To simulate in-person learning, Professor Perone also records her lectures in a single take to give students “a very natural presentation.”

Her cats, Biscuit and Gravy, also regularly attend her classes. In fact, she told us, they have “ended up being something that bridges the distance between me and the students.” So much so that students have send her pictures of their pets (which she naturally loves)!

Professor Ya Zuo, a pre-Modern Chinese epistemology and empiric historian, has aworked hard to keep her students engaged. She noted: “At this moment, the most serious challenge is prolonged social isolation and its impact on the communal psyche, a burden particularly hard for college students to carry.”

To address this, she has strived to “create an environment where students feel comfortable speaking up, sharing opinions, and connecting with friends and classmates through productive academic discussions.” One of the most exciting aspects of her time remoted teaching has been the class debates that she has facilitated over zoom. “Despite the physical isolation we are going through,” Professor Zuo explained, “I aim to create a sense of community in my classes.”

Professors Zuo and Perrone agree that maintaining a schedule (as much as possible) is important. They suggested dividing your work time into manageable segments, taking five-minute breaks every half an hour, and going on many, many walks! “Routine is your friend when regular structures of daily life are missing,” Professor Perrone noted.  

We also asked the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Linda Adler-Kassner, about her pandemic teaching practices. She noted that “it’s perfectly normal to feel disconnected — we are — but that this won’t last forever. Faculty *also* feel disconnected. And miss seeing students, too!”

She urged us to strive to keep in touch and stay connected as we embark upon the spring quarter. As Dean Adler-Kassner explained, this is important for students themselves but also between students and the faculty. “Remember that we are all in this together, that everyone’s experiences of the pandemic are different, and be sympathetic and patient.”

So, as we ready ourselves to log-in to classes once more, coronavirus case numbers are decreasing, and vaccination rates are increasing. And we ought to remember Professor Zuo’s upbeat note: “The pandemic will be over, soon. And we all look forward to seeing everyone in person on our beautiful campus!”

Dialogues In History |

By: Adam Majcher

On 19 February 2021, the UCSB History Department’s Colloquium Committee held the first of four discussions of Herman Bennett’s 2018 book, African Kings and Black Slaves. Inspired by the recent George Floyd Uprising, these discussions bring together a panel of historians to discuss and expand on some of the most important themes of Bennett’s writing. The first focused on the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Atlantic, including the Portuguese’s acknowledgment of various African peoples’ sovereignty, the role of religion on interracial relations, and the concepts of slavery and unfreedom and how they came to be in the Mediterranean.

The panel consisted of four historians: Sergey Saluschev, who studies the nineteenth-century Caucasus region; Adam Sabra, whose research focuses on the Middle East in the medieval and early modern periods; Elizabeth Digeser, who studies religion and the Roman Empire; and Juan Cobo, an expert in colonial Latin American history. Despite many of their fields being distant from the topic covered in Bennett’s book, it was impressive how all made meaningful connections between their research and the issue at hand. When asked how she prepared for the panel, Professor Digeser responded that she initially wasn’t sure what to contribute: “it might well have been the case that there wouldn’t have been anything I could talk about.” Yet, she found a connection between Bennett’s writing and a letter by Saint Augustine, an African Bishop who lived a millennium earlier. “Since Bennett tended to treat Christianity as monolithic and didn’t address the religion’s implication in the problem of slavery, it made good sense to talk about the precedent that Augustine had set.”

To hear historians speak thoughtfully about a topic that, on the surface, appeared to have no immediate connection to their research was fascinating. So too, was how their comments challenged what we think we know about the early modern Atlantic. Saluschev emphasized that Europeans’ views about Africans were not as simple as one of “savage to slave.” The Portuguese, for example, actually recognized the sovereignty of various African peoples as early as 1450.  Professor Cobo addressed how European laws were established as universal to all, regardless of origin. This meant that European powers needed to respect non-European peoples’ sovereignty to obey their own “natural law.” This proved to be crucial to their assertions of power and understandings of self.

Equally telling was how religion, not race or ethnicity, framed interactions between European and African people. Indeed, race and ethnicity shaped the dynamic between European and African people. Still, as Professors Sabra and Digeser made clear, religion was the initial reason for any encounter. Professor Sabra addressed how those people further from the temperate zone of the Mediterranean (Black Africans and white Slavs and Vikings) and not monotheistic were seen as inferior. Professor Digeser highlighted that it was Christianity that created the hierarchical views Europeans had of their superiority. As a result, Europeans viewed lifelong enslavement as a “small matter” compared to African souls’ salvation.

Finally, the dialogue between other historians and between the past and present was remarkable. As an undergraduate student, it was fascinating to see historians talk about their discipline in a way that is often difficult in a classroom setting. As a result, it was illuminating to observe in real-time what was essentially a historiographical debate. Professor Harold Marcuse, one of the audience members, observed these discussions were “absolutely” a good way for undergraduates to learn about the conversations that historians have and how they look. As he explained, the broader issues discussed “come up everywhere and always, so they resonate and trigger reflection easily.”

The second of these discussions will take place this Friday (12 March) at 1 P.M. The focus this time will be on empire and liberation. You can register on Zoom here. These events are a fantastic opportunity to learn from our very own historians and see what awaits us fellow students of history. So, make sure to check them out!