by Gregory Parker and Lara Zielin
It felt less like course work and more like detective work.
“Archival research meant literally digging through thousands of documents—most that had nothing to do with our project—to find a single piece of paper,” said Emilie Irene Neumeier, a student in Professor Matthew Lassiter’s history class titled Global Activism at U-M: The Anti-War, Anti-Apartheid, and Anti-Sweatshop Movements.
Neumeier was among 13 undergraduates who set out to understand the role of University of Michigan students in social movements against the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa, and sweatshops that manufactured U-M apparel. Their quest took them deep into archives across U-M, including the Bentley Historical Library and the Joseph A. Labadie Collection, which focuses on the history of social movements.
“The moment of finding a document that mattered was so exciting it made up for the hours spent looking through everything else,” said Neumeier, a history and political science major who graduated in May.
Lassiter’s class is just one of several initiatives that are bringing more undergraduates into the Bentley. Professor Melanie Tanielian had five undergraduates researching in the Bentley this summer for Bombs, Bonds, and Boycotts: A Local and Global History of World War I. The paid internship program explored U-M’s role in the war.
Both Lassiter and Tanielian’s students were part of the project called Michigan in the World: Local and Global Stories, a collaboration between the Department of History and the Eisen-berg Institute for Historical Studies, with additional support from alumni Lisa and Timothy J. Sloan. The students produced multimedia exhibits instead of final papers, all of which can be viewed online.
Like the Michigan in the World project, the Bentley has also received support to increasingly engage undergraduate students and faculty. This May, the Bentley was awarded Third Century Initiative funding, which was established by the U-M president and provost to encourage faculty to develop innovative ideas for enriching student learning. The Bentley’s project, Engaging the Archives, offers students a deep dive into historical archives through courses taught by teams of faculty and Library archivists.
As students conduct hands-on primary research, “they become adept at sifting through vast amounts of information and using sources to find other sources,” Lassiter says. “This leads to some incredible discoveries in untapped archival collections.”
Students in history classes that visited the Bentley this year produced some exceptional online exhibits. Check out the links below to see how they’ve curated Michigan’s past.
Lead image: Students Chiara Kalogjera-Sackellares (left) and William Cowell (right) study Bentley materials along with professor Melanie Tanielian (center) in her Bombs, Bonds, and Boycotts history class.