A few years ago, after hearing family stories, I got really interested in doing some research on my great-great-great-grandfather, who was one of the founding members of the Tailor’s Union here in NYC. It began with my interest in leaving a detailed record with pictures of my family on Ancestry.com. I began my research with the notes left behind from my great aunt, which included a photocopy of a booklet published on his professional life, but it was in pretty bad shape. I went online and much to my surprise, The reminiscences of Robert Crowe, the octogenarian[!] tailor by Miss Helen R. Burns, Principal of the Cooper Settlement in NYC, was available for purchase from the University of Michigan’s Library! I wrote an article about his professional life, and intertwined some personal details, which the booklet was devoid of. He had a very prolific life here in NYC not only spearheading the Tailor’s Union with his excellent oratory skills, but in England as well (Queen Victoria had him imprisoned for his union activities there). I shopped it around various newspapers and it was eventually published in the Irish Echo for their St. Patrick’s Day issue, with a picture of him taken around the time the booklet was published in 1902 (he was born in 1823 in Dublin). It was an extremely exciting research adventure that in many ways helped me to connect more intimately with him and my family.
Curiosity and delight in Kynard and Graff
These are fun, pieces to read, relying on personal classroom experience to explore alternate ways to research as well as write the research paper. Carmen Kynard’s experiences at the beginning of her article bemoans the lack of variety of imaginative source material in the production of the standard research paper based on textbook examples, library websites, or unfortunately, some of my own handouts. Why not explore (or even require) the use of some of her suggestions, such as “autobiographical accounts” (as I frequently use for my own research, but usually discourage students from using for theirs, oddly enough; I have to think about this), “poems, interviews, and survey data.” Certainly, incorporating these formats would reduce reliance on secondary sources that sometimes lead to unintentional plagiarism created by plugging into a format. Kynard’s “jam” assignment, asking students to respond to a controversial subject by gathering three types of appropriate materials: imaginative writing, a visual/verbal text and a verbal text, analyzing each text for style, comparing and contrasting the texts, and possibly using the texts in a final research paper sounds fascinating and would certainly avoid the miasma of standard research and the paper that results from it.
Thinking about Kynard and Graff, I’ve come up with a few more ways to possibly add “curiosity and delight” to research and research paper writing, and I’m anxious to try some of them out:
- What about changing the audience? In other words, not having the students write for me as the teacher but, for example, imagine themselves as journalists reporting on a major event for a newspaper, or a lawyer arguing an unsolved murder from history.
- Changing the character of their narrative: become a Jewish immigrant who comments on her/his memories of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, a Japanese survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima on its 85th
- How about deliberately and dangerously, writing a research paper designed to propagandize for a particular cause?
These assignments can be argued to change the purpose of the formal research paper that is commonly taught, but expand the concepts of audience and purpose, encouraging students to learn that research papers don’t all look alike, and that the writing skills learned in an English classroom can be utilized in other classes.