One of the excellent features of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) Biennial Meeting is the ongoing commitment of the CFH to undergraduate research. Once again, on the day before the main conference, an undergraduate conference was held. I attended three sessions, on German Politics, on Historians and Their Historians, and on Early Modern Religion. The papers were on a variety of topics, including (among others) the Bauhaus Movement, Herodotus on women, and English witchcraft beliefs. Over lunch, some of students’ professors debated the merits of the History Channel, which soon turned into a useful discussion of doing history through television and film.
Over all, the student papers were of a high quality. These were senior students, many of whom were presenting independent research projects (mini-theses). There were several lessons (offered both positively and occasionally negatively) which all undergraduate students could learn from:
1. Writing matters. Most of the papers were remarkably well-written, with clear structure, flowing sentences, and lively vocabulary.
2. Delivery counts too. The best of the presenters really (especially the Early Modern Religion panel) engaged the audience, making eye contact, looking around the room, and varying their intonation.
3. Historiography helps. Most of the papers explicitly referenced the existing literature on their topics, locating their own research within the context of current scholarly debates. This gave them instant credibility with the professors in the audience, who value very highly the notion of history as an ongoing (usually written) conversation among scholars.
4. Sources make the paper. Without a good body of primary source material, there is not much to say. History is always rooted in the interpretation of the raw material of the past–whether correspondence, memoirs, trial documents, published books and pamphlets, or political papers, or any number of other kinds of documents and artifacts.
I am excited to work with Ambrose history students to develop these same skills, and look forward to seeing them present at future CFH Undergraduate Conferences. Next opportunity is in 2016 at Regent University in Virginia!