Reflections on Research

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  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.





2 thoughts on “Reflections on Research

  1. Professor McDonnell

    I am feeling very lost on this site. I see Carrie’s announcement for today with the video linked, but have spent an hour trying to navigate to get back to the original DAY TWO announcement so I can find the readings to no avail. When I click on SUMMER INSTITUTE, it takes me here. When I click on READINGS, it takes me to something from February? I’m going to try to answer the questions anyway, even though I suspect this is a reply and not a new thread. I can’t see how to start a new one.

    When was a time when you got really interested in something and researched that thing. How did you get interested? How did you go about the research? What did you DO with that research?

    This last few months I have been doing a lot of fear based research about PLAGUES and AUTOCRACY. I also, like much of the country, went deeper into my research about racism and police brutality in this country. All of this research was reactive to real things happening in the world.

    As far as PLAGUES, I read a lot of news articles about coronavirus in this country and worldwide. I have curated my social media sites so that I mostly see posts from news sources I have some trust in (The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian…). I also have ongoing dialogs with friends and family in other states and countries. We regularly share our experiences, perceptions, and research with one another and help one another make informed choices. I also read a YA book called FEVER 1793 with my daughter, and we reflected on the similarities and differences between what the girl experienced then and what we are experiencing. NPR also did a great series recently that I listened to on a long drives.
    As for autocracy, I’m reading Masha Gessen and researching the best way to vote safely in November and following candidates up and down the ballot.
    As for racism, I joined a study group run by my friend Naomi Extra, who is black and getting her PhD in American Studies at Rutgers. We read the Combahee River Collective statement and had a group zoom discussion where the poet Cheryl Clarke joined in. It was amazing and gave me hope.

    I can’t find the readings, but I have been replacing the traditional research paper with an EMPIRICAL one for years. In fact, for some classes, I stopped making it a paper at all. Students start with a question or a hypothesis about something that interests them. At least one of their sources needs to be EMPIRICAL, as in they interview somebody who they can argue is an expert, or they conduct a survey. When they are done, they create a presentation for the class, which I would like to continue if it could be melded with the curriculum here online somehow….

    Using what we’ve read in Kynard and Graff, how might we expand the definitions of a research project to more fully contain the curiosity and delight of research?

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