Tracking Social Change
Posted on September 23, 2009
Research Methods (SOC 302) – Professor Karen McCormack
In Research Methods, students are introduced to the logic and methods used to collect and analyze data sociologically. In addition to learning and practicing these methods, students learn to how to develop good research questions and, at the end of the semester, construct a proposal for their senior theses.
In the spring of 2007, our class met in the archives to learn about using historical documents for sociological research. Once students were introduced to the types of documents available, they worked in pairs to explore the types of information available and devise a researchable, sociological question relating to the Wheaton community.
Three weeks and many hours of research later, the class again met in the archives to hear brief student descriptions of their projects. Through an examination of student-run yearbooks, Rushlight, Wheaton News and Wheaton Wire, photographs, Catalogues, scrapbooks, and many other documents, students raised many interesting questions. Groups addressed topics as varied as the impact of technological change on student life, admissions procedures and racial and ethnic diversity, coeducation and the changing significance of sports, and the development of the Honor Code. Only a few of the projects are described here.
Several group of students examined the Nike, tracking entries over time to examine changing perceptions of the most important aspects of college life. Their questions included how the student-run yearbooks reflect the college experience, reveal what students of different time periods want to remember about their college years, and how the students themselves want to be remembered. For instance, in its early years, the Nike devoted several pages to the lower classes, including class photos and individual photos of the junior class; such pages do not appear now.
Other students examined student gender image by looking for changes in 20 year intervals in the presentation of self, including hairstyles, fashion, and activities. They examined images in Class Files, Sports Files, and Scrapbooks, comparing them to the more formal poses in the Nike.
A study of gender expectations focused on advertisements in the Wheaton News and Wheaton Wire. Question included how advertising in the student newspaper changed over time, how it reflects society within and outside the College, and society’s view of college students and the products that appeal to them.
Time spent in the archives was beneficial for students in three ways: first, they were able to practice using archival materials to address sociological questions. Second, they experienced using documentary evidence in creative ways for sociological purposes. Third, the range of questions and sources available helped to spark their imaginations as they began to devise their own research questions for the thesis.