Creating a Research Project

In the summer of 2018, I interviewed for the position of Digital Humanities (DH) Intern. (Not sure what Digital Humanities is? Check out our “About Digital Humanities and this Internship” page!) I wasn’t sure that I would get the job, as I had relatively little idea what DH was and I’m not a computer person. Through some stroke of luck, I landed the job and began working in the Fall! When I began working, my supervisors and I had a meeting to discuss the research project that I would be doing. Building off some different research that I was doing, we decided to do a project about Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical University (Oklahoma State University’s previous name) during the Great Depression. 

The first step in creating a research project is defining the scope of the project; this is essentially asking what the end goal is. The researcher is asking themselves, “When all is said and done, what do I want to know about?” When the scope of a project is too large, the question will take too much time and too many resources to answer. Most likely, it will cause a big headache for the researcher. There’s a reason that teachers tell students to narrow down their topics when writing a paper. After defining the scope of the project, setting out a list of questions will round out the end goal and make getting to the end more manageable. The questions are like stepping stones.

In this project, the scope was to learn about OSU during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time or resources to have me do a project that large, so we decided to focus on how the Depression affected student life. To this end, we came up with a list of questions, which I’ve given a few of below. 

  • How did students get around town?
  • Where and what did they eat?
  • How did they pay for school? 
  • Were there student jobs?
  • Where did the students come from?
  • Where did they live?

The third step to creating a good research project is to make a list of primary sources that will answer the research questions. This list will always be evolving because the further into the project, the more questions arise and more sources are needed. You might begin talking to people who are doing a similar project and can share sources, or people who just know of a fantastic resource. On the other hand, some sources may not yield any information, and will need to be marked off the list. For my project, I didn’t make my primary source list personally, but my supervisors had a mental list of things that they wanted me to explore. Below is a retroactive list of sources that I used.

  • The Oral History Collections
  • OSU Yearbooks
  • OSU Directories
  • Government Documents
  • Maps Collection

How we went about answering these questions and using these sources will be the subject of subsequent blog posts. Have questions? See our ‘Contact Us’ page!

                                                            -Claire Ringer