Historical Research Workshop

About the Class

current as of: 11/30/2012


Historical Research Workshop DeCal (History 98) is part of the University of California, Berkeley’s student-run democratic education program. Unlike the 101 Thesis course, this DeCal focuses solely on the research process (composing a research paper is not within the purview of this class), providing a systematic and comprehensive overview of campus library resources. Students will engage in their own research project, providing weekly updates on this blog.


Historical Research Workshop is designed to answer for a current deficiency in Cal’s History major.  While all majors are required to enroll in History 101 and write a 30 to 50 page thesis, it is not the case that all majors arrive adequately experienced in both primary and secondary source access.  A crash course in research in the first few weeks of a History 101 seminar simply may not be enough to produce the thorough, carefully considered research that is necessary for students to confidently set out to compose their thesis.  We hope to address this problem by offering a workspace for students to teach themselves more about the research process and practice these crucial skills.  Each module seeks to address the course goals of Access, Analysis, and Communication.

  • Access: survey a landscape of unfamiliar information, find and access relevant sources in a variety of formats (both physical and virtual), and properly document sources according to the Chicago Manual of Style
  • Analysis: employ the sourcing heuristic, evaluate and identify a source’s purpose, audience, biases, relevance, limitations, etc.
  • Communication: clearly elucidate research goals and questions
While these skills are crucial to successfully completing the History 101 thesis, the ability to survey a landscape of unfamiliar information, identify and analyze salient points is a skill that will continue to be employed well after one’s undergraduate education.


This course was inspired by the model of Undergraduate Interdiscipinary Studies 39B: Archival Research – Working with Primary Sources in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Engineering, a 1.5 unit freshman/sophomore seminar offered at the Bancroft Library every spring. Focusing on the research process and the “joy of the hunt”, students are instructed to explore the archives for the first portion of the class with the guidance of Professor James Casey and Bancroft librarians Peter Hanff and David Farrell. Discussion forms a key aspect of the class, and students would share one item they had pulled from the archives and share their strategies, successes and frustrations about discovering, accessing, or analyzing particular sources. Rather than focus on the traditional research paper, students are invited to explore different applications of their research. Inspired by guest speakers such as Carla De Luca Worfolk (Director, Executive Producer, and Writer of America’s Wine: The Legacy of Prohibition), past students have produced final projects ranging from historical fiction plays to vintage dresses.