Over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year, the History Department has continued to provide opportunities for a number of its majors to serve as paid research assistants for professors engaged in a variety of tasks. One Thing after Another thought it would ask Professor Andy Moore about the work to which he put his research assistants this year. American Studies major Katherine Warth ’21 (left) assisted with research on Moore’s forthcoming biography of Jimmy Carter while History major Will Small ’21 (right) helped collect material for a course that Moore will teach this fall: Guns in America.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about the purpose and focus of these research projects?
A: The Jimmy Carter research has been ongoing for a long time. Many years ago I agreed to write a biography of him for Louisiana State University Press. Other projects and family obligations have slowed my progress almost to a standstill. The Carter Library in Atlanta, Georgia doesn’t really have any archival material from his post-presidential life. But he has had a productive life since he left the White House—some would argue more productive than when he was in the White House—and he is still alive and active. So Katherine is trying to round up research material about that part of his life. The guns research originated in a personal interest in guns—an interest I’ve had since childhood. Probably a year or so ago, I decided that guns would make an interesting course—especially for non-History majors, who need to a historical reasoning course. I read enough secondary sources to know what the overall course narrative and the key themes should be, but I had no primary sources to build a course on. That’s the research that Will did for me. He found primary sources that I could have students read. I could not have made this a historical reasoning course—which was my goal—without his work.
Q: Why do you believe these projects matter?
A: The Carter project matters because Carter himself is an interesting person. My biography of him will approach him as a southerner. I believe—and this is the direction my biography of him is taking for now—that he was far more typical of many white southerners in the years leading up to his presidency than he or other biographers have allowed. And since his presidency, the ways that he has diverged from the majority of white southerners is an interesting window into the development of the South in the late 20th century. The guns project matters because guns matter in our current political and social climate. I hope that a historical perspective will help at least everyone involved in the course to see the complexity of the issue and maybe, in some way, help move the needle a little bit in public discussions of an emotional and controversial topic.
Q: What roles did the students play during these projects?
A: Their roles are invaluable. I wouldn’t be prepared to develop a new course without Will’s guns research, and Katherine’s Carter research will save me time when I do get around to writing again. I won’t have to look for sources; she will already have done a lot of that heavy lifting for me.
Q: What do you believe the students got out of their work?
A: Not as much as I have, I’m sure. I hope they at least gained some valuable research experience. I think that inadvertently they have gotten really good at playing, “guess what Moore’s thinking,” since sometimes my instructions were probably too vague and left too much uncertainty.
Q: How is the Guns in America course coming along?
A: I have a draft syllabus completed, and I have done the credit hour, historical reasoning, and citizenship applications, and am now waiting for approval. I hope that approval goes through, because it is on the books for Fall 2019 registration (which happens in a few weeks)! I am scheduled to teach two sections of it in the fall.
Q: Still plan on working with student researchers in the future?
A: I sure hope so. There is still plenty of guns and Carter research still to do.
At this point, since turnabout is fair play, once One Thing after Another finished with Moore, it asked Katherine Warth and Will Small for their perspectives about their work.
Q: How did you get involved with these projects?
Katherine: I got involved with this research project when I received an email from the history department over the summer explaining job offerings for the upcoming year. One of the projects was on the post-presidential career of Jimmy Carter with my academic advisor professor Moore. I’ve been interested in Jimmy Carter since middle school when I saw ARGO, a film on the Iran Hostage Crisis. This movie sparked my interest in American history and motivated me to conduct personal research on the event and on Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time of the crisis. I thought it would be fun and a good opportunity to be involved in this research, so I applied and was lucky enough to be offered the position!
Will: Either during the summer before sophomore year or shortly into the first semester, I got an email listing several job opportunities for the History Department. I applied for a few and, after different interviews for each position, I was invited to become Professor Moore’s research assistant. I wanted to participate in the Guns in America project for several reasons. Most important, I’ve always had an interest in guns to some degree. Regardless of where my opinion lies in terms of gun rights and ownership, I just think they’re kind of neat inventions. I also developed an interest in the debate over gun rights due to noticing several strongly opposing viewpoints being held by my fellow students on the Hilltop. Shortly after the shooting at Stoneham Douglas in 2018, I overheard a number of conversations regarding a need to enact stricter legislation. At the same time, I had visited dorms on campus with flags on the walls stating, “Come and Take It” with an image of a cannon proudly displayed beneath the motto. I wondered how these differing opinions came into being, which had been more prominent in the past, and which was currently in control of the debate. I figured that first-hand research would be a great way to find out.
Q: Please describe your experiences working on these projects. What were your primary objectives and methods of accomplishing them?
Katherine: My research mainly involves researching documents pertaining to the post-presidential career of Jimmy Carter from 1990 to the present. I read through articles from TIME and The New York Times, press releases from The Carter Center, and book reviews of Carter’s published works. I’m using the information I gather to create an account of what Jimmy Carter has done since 1990 and how he has been viewed by the public. A lot of what I do also involves summarizing and organizing materials as I am compiling these sources for Professor Moore to use on his book on Carter. I have to make sure that the work I do is easily understandable as I know it will be used by others in the future.
Will: I spent a lot of time researching primary sources related to the gun rights debate throughout the entirety of American history. As long as the 2nd Amendment has existed, people have been arguing over how to interpret it, and it was my job to discover what their exact arguments were and help form a timeline of when they came onto the scene. New York Times articles and editorials and any other newspaper reporting on local or national gun laws, old hunting and fishing magazines like Field and Stream or Arms and the Man, TIME, and a number of Supreme Court and circuit court cases proved to be most of what I found, aided by the bibliographies of secondary sources. Most of these resources were found using online databases that the college has access to or public databases like the Library of Congress’s public archives. Anytime I found a document I believed would be useful, I uploaded a PDF or transcription of it to an online repository and created an entry detailing the name of the document, when it was published and who it was published by, as well as a short description of its main points.
Q: What do you believe you gained from working on these projects? Similarly, what is something about the topics that you learned during the course of your research?
Katherine: I’ve learned a lot about how research is conducted through this project. I’ve taken history classes and done research projects before but they have all been structured by my professors. This research is a lot more independent. Even just finding time to do this research while taking classes and being involved on campus can be difficult at times and I’ve learned the importance of self-motivation in research. Ultimately what keeps me going is my love of research and my interest in Jimmy Carter. It’s so fun to use a jumble of documents to create a clear picture of the past, which is exactly why I’m a part of the American Studies program and the History Department! One of the most interesting things I’ve learned through my research is about the work The Carter Center does regarding mental health and overseeing foreign elections. Mental health and advancing care for those affected is a huge concern of mine and seeing what Rosalynn Carter has done to advance Americans outlook on mental health, even in the late 20th century, is truly astonishing. The Carter Center’s involvement in overseeing foreign elections actually helped me in my Intro to American Studies class when we were discussing the concept of expanding manifest destiny and American democracy abroad. It was really fun to add information I learned from my research to the class discussion, especially because Professor Moore teaches my Intro to American Studies class.
Will: I definitely gained a deeper understanding of the research process and discovered a few tips and tricks that allow me to find the information that I want, faster. For instance, Professor Moore provided me with an outline of subtopics, possible questions, and time periods that helped to guide the process. Had he just said, “Well, I need documents concerning the gun rights debate, go find some,” it would have taken much longer for me to collect sources, since I wouldn’t have known what was possibly useful or not. I also now have a solid grasp of what sort of research resources the college does and does not have at its disposal, which will help streamline any further research I do down the road. One of my favorite things about this topic that I’ve learned is that arguments in favor of gun rights became more and more fundamental as the gun rights movement gained popularity and organized. For instance, in the 1800s, it was established jurisprudence that concealed carry was against the law. Those who argued against it generally did not have any problems with the constitutionality of anti-concealed carriage laws, but rather their practicality. They stated that criminals were not going to follow the law anyways, which put innocent, law-abiding citizens at risk. As the National Rifle Association began to take charge of the movement, that’s when you really begin to see appeals for the fundamental right of individual ownership and concealed carry being safeguarded by the Bill of Rights.
Q: Do you plan to do more research for the History Department?
Katherine: I hope to do more research with the department! I’m currently working with Professor Dubrulle on preliminary research for a statistical study of life outcomes for Civil War veterans from the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. We’re only in the beginning stages of this project but I hope to be able to pursue it in my next couple years at SAC!
Will: Yeah! I actually plan on continuing to do gun-related research for Professor Moore over this coming summer, this time about the relationship between guns and Evangelical Christians, if his application for a faculty-student grant is accepted. Other than that, though, I’d always be open to research opportunities that match my interests.
Q: How does it feel to almost be juniors at SAC?
Katherine: It’s a little sad almost being a junior. Being halfway done with my time here on the Hilltop and only having two more gingerbread competitions makes me sorrowful thinking that in just two more years I’ll graduate. I’m also excited for everything to come in the next two years! Every day here is full of excitement, or at least some snow, and I can’t wait for the chance to make more memories, take more classes, watch my class of 2021 banner move in Davison Hall, and so much more!
Will: I don’t know! So I’m just not going to think about it until I’m already a junior and let the weight of that hit me all at once.