Student Historians in Residence Program: A Closer Look

January 6, 2021

Each year, the University Archives’ Student Historians take on amazing research projects, and this year is no different!

Sophia Abrams, a junior studying Journalism and Afro-American Studies, settled on an oral history project about Black artists’ experiences on campus. She hopes to address the intersection of Blackness and art and plans to tie in the stories of the State Street murals.

T.J. Braxton, a Political Science and African American Studies major, started researching the UW-Madison Department of Afro-American Studies and became intrigued by references to The Madison Plan and Plan 2008, which led him to his ultimate topic, UW-Madison’s three diversity initiatives: The Madison Plan, Plan 2008, and the R.E.E.L. Model for Diversity.

Since 2018, four undergraduate students have had the opportunity to participate in the Student Historian in Residence program. Focused on uncovering stories from traditionally marginalized communities on campus, this program simultaneously helps Archives expand their collections to include underrepresented histories while also giving undergraduate students professional experience conducting archival research projects.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances faced this year, the Archives staff not only committed to continuing this project but expanded it by hiring two students instead of one. This was made possible in part by funding offered by the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty through a Kemper K. Knapp grant.

Both oral history projects will bring meaningful additions to the Archives collections. Oral history is an important complement to traditional archival research, and Sophia’s topic will help fill a gap in stories from a historically underrepresented group on campus. T.J. has recognized that recent history is as influential and significant to our campus community as stories from fifty or a hundred years ago.

While each student’s experience in the program is unique, they are encouraged to brainstorm and research topics that are of interest to them as long as it gives a voice to groups whose stories are underrepresented. Final projects have taken various forms, including a teaching kit, an oral history, and traditional research papers. As the program continues to evolve, Archives staff have built-in more support for outreach opportunities, which includes peer-to-peer outreach with the aim to involve more undergraduates in archives and archival research.

As student historians, the participants gain important research skills and learn how to analyze and understand primary sources. They come away from the program equipped with professional skills they will use long after leaving UW-Madison.

I’ve always felt this is an incredibly valuable program, both for the opportunities it affords our undergraduate students and for the unique perspectives, energy, and creativity the students bring to their projects that will be preserved for access by future generations. It’s wonderful to see how this important program has grown over the past three years, and I look forward to seeing what our student historians do next!