Results of UR Faculty Survey

As part of my research for this project, I conducted an informal survey of the UR history faculty. I received eight responses, which expressed a fairly wide variety of opinions on historical writing. This is indicative of the near impossibility of finding several people who agree on the subject of historical writing. That, and the apparent lack of a good, currently in-print book designed for undergraduates, makes it rather difficult to provide a clear-cut resource on the subject.

History faculty stated in the survey that they did notice significant problems with student writing, but most of them mentioned grammatical and wording errors as the most serious. However, there were two who stressed students' inability to develop a complex argument and the failure of students to see an historical work as presenting an argument, rather than a mere narrative. Another faculty member mentioned students who write to impress rather than communicate and fail to revise their work. Despite their qualms, only one believed student writing had declined in quality during his career, as a result of less reading by students before college, and most thought it had improved due to better qualified students being admitted.

The faculty mentioned the Writing Center, along with Strunk & White's Elements of Style, Turabian's Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, and The Modern Researcher as good resources for students with writing difficulties, and several stated that they recommended the Center to all students. Although I did not specifically ask what the faculty believed might solve student writing trouble, several professors commented that they felt improvements in writing were attainable only through hard work and experience.

On the whole, the faculty did not express much belief in technology being a significant part of the solution to writing problems. Several mentioned that they could use the web to show examples of good and bad writing. With regard to the new multimedia classroom in Ryland 215, most professors believed it would have little or no impact on their teaching of historical writing.

I asked the faculty whether they believed an introductory class for history majors and minors, similar to English 199, would be helpful in alleviating writing problems. When asked about this possibility, only one professor believed it might be of help. Some of the others felt the benefits of such a course would be outweighed by the difficulty of implementing it. The remainder did not feel that the problems were severe enough to warrant such a measure. Several stated that they felt English 103 should be sufficient to instruct students on writing.

When surveyed about what they viewed as the central tenets of historical writing, the faculty responded with mostly similar answers. In general, they believed that good historical writing required the absence of bias, organization, clarity, attention to detail, telling a good story, and presenting a strong argument backed by supporting evidence. They also stated that historical writing had not changed much, if at all, in its requirements during their careers, although several mentioned that it shifts focus periodically. By this, they were referring to the current tendency to focus on social history, including gender topics, and the greater past emphasis upon political and intellectual history.


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