I had a truly amazing experience as a 2012 University Honors Scholar. With the assistance and guidance of a talented faculty mentor, I was able to conduct meaningful research in my area of interest. I learned how to extract information from various scholarly sources, analyze and organize my information into a formal Honors Capstone paper, and present my major findings to a small group of students and a large, public audience. This experience helped me to develop a unique set of skills. On the one hand, I learned how to condense my information into a five-minute presentation, conveying only the most critical points of my research. On the other hand, I learned how to stay enthusiastic, motivated, and intellectually attentive during my formal University Honors Scholar research presentation that lasted for 30 minutes.

Additionally, I had an opportunity to present my project at NIU’s fourth annual Undergraduate Research & Artistry Day. My participation in this highly competitive event helped me prepare for the subsequent University Honors Scholars presentation, which occurred a few days later. This event also gave me a chance to meet other bright and motivated students from all disciplines, who were eager to enhance their learning experience through different academic opportunities offered by the University Honors Program.

Kolsai mountain lakeI felt highly privileged to hold the title “University Honors Summer Scholar” and the prestigious title “University Honors Scholar” during my senior year. The project was a challenge, but it was a challenge worth taking! The time dedicated to my summer research and my effort in writing the Honors Capstone during the spring semester has helped me develop time management skills and define my substantive ideas and professional interests.  This project also helped me discover and develop abilities that will allow me to make future contributions to a global society.


“There’s No Valley So Sweet”

Market Development in the Lower Fox Valley River Region, 1833-1852

By Wayne Duerkes

In 1834, Joseph Ebersol purchased land on Covel Creek in LaSalle County, Illinois.  Ebersol, his wife Elizabeth, and their six children, including twelve year old son Amos, moved from Pennsylvania in hopes of making a living as farmers on the Illinois prairie.  Ebersol selected acreage a few miles southeast of the growing hamlet of Ottawa which was located at the confluence of the Fox and the Illinois rivers.   The surrounding countryside, dotted with plentiful timber and crisscrossed with streams and creeks, was an ideal setting for agricultural pursuits.  With fertile soils, a navigable river system, and overland trade routes established by French trappers and Native Americans, the lower Fox Valley River region, encompassing present-day southern DeKalb and northern LaSalle counties, appeared to be providentially made for settlement.  Young Amos Ebersol declared of his new home that “in all the wide world there’s no valley so sweet.”

Ebersol, and many others like him, were an integral link in the development of northern Illinois, but the more engaged the research became with the participants, the more questions I found that needed attention. Not just with the people, but with all the elements of the region including the market, local commerce and the “who, want, how and why” of regional business decisions which affected everyone.  And then how these issues fit into the larger context of the historiography that exists and ultimately, where does the region fit into the larger historical debates of the period.  Did settlers to the northern Illinois prairie come with a purely capitalistic intent in the 1830s and 40s?

Lower-Fox-bluffsTherefore, my research examines the development of the market economy from 1833 to 1852 in the lower Fox Valley River region.  The focus starts in 1833, after the Native American population was removed as a result of the Black Hawk War and ends in 1852 with the rail system economically tying the rural state to Chicago.  The lower Fox Valley River region’s market, originally thought to have preferential economic ties to St. Louis during the pre-railroad era, was actually an economic battleground for commercial trade between Chicago and St. Louis.    This competition was caused by the region’s geographic location, the diversity of the people inhabiting the area, and the diversity and complexity of the local market.  These driving forces, singularly and collectively, provide the local inhabitants with opportunities unlike those available to other areas within the state.

The study also demonstrates how the region was not the start of new financial processes but rather more of a re-introduction of the economic situation many immigrants had left in their eastern origins.  The debate on the transition to capitalism is, of course, relative to time and place.  By the mid-1830s, any remnant of a solitary or subsistence culture within Illinois had disappeared, but, by in large, the transformation to a full engagement with capitalism in the region would not be complete until the 1870s and after.  The early settlers attempted to break free from the economic constraints they had come to know on the east coast only to find themselves engaged in the same commercial ventures they had left behind but with themselves vying for the position of the power player.  Regional records shows evidence of; product and/or work exchange, credit, and cash transactions all happening daily just like their east coast counterparts.  Ebersol mentions on several occasions of a variety of commercial exchange methods occurring in one day just for his own needs.  Ebersol’s desire to be in control of his own economic destiny, which was representative of a growing portion of the population, is recounted throughout his diary when he remarks, “I wish I had as some folks do—plenty of money and nothing to do.”  This is evidence that a portion of the region was in transition.

The Illinois prairies, or what historian William Cronon has referred to as the “hinterlands,” have consistently been relegated to a supporting role in the history of the state with most of the focus centered on Chicago and Springfield.  On a few occasions, smaller locations such as Galena, Alton, or New Salem, make the historic headlines primarily based on either a specific event that occurred there or the recognition of being the “home of” some famous person.  Regretfully, from many sources, it would seem that the history of Illinois started with the state’s involvement in the Civil War.  In fact, many of the county histories published in the late nineteenth century devote little attention to the antebellum period at all.  Any discussion of topics concerning social, cultural, or economic history of the pre-Civil War era in the Illinois hinterlands have been left for present-day historians to piece together.  The opportunity to discuss the hinterlands in regards to its contributions to issues like economic growth and development allows us to have a better understanding of the complexity of the state as a whole during the epoch.  The period is rife with limitations in regards to sources; therefore I had to utilize a variety of methods to approach the research.

DiaryMy first approach was to explore any diaries, journals, and correspondence to convey the personal stories that are crucial in understanding what individuals had to cope with during their lives.  The Ebersol diaries proved essential and became central in providing that human aspect of the story.  Amos Ebersol was a perpetual writer who had a penchant for logging meticulous details of daily life.  Several other individuals also contributed supplemental stories to the personal narrative that proved congruent to Ebersol.

In addition to the individual or family stories of life, work, and society, the research relied heavily on the businesses of the region.  Although agriculture was a major means of employment in 1850, with 82 percent of the population in DeKalb County engaged in farming, there was only 53 percent engaged in the same profession in LaSalle County.  This left thousands of other citizens engaged in many other occupations and businesses.  Fortunately for us, a portion of these businesses sought the assistance of investors to expand their operations.  To garner this help, the R. G. Dun Company was a source in linking small, local entrepreneurs across the nation to large east coast investors.  The Dun Company employed associates to monitor future and existing, local, commercial enterprises and report back regularly on those small business’s operations as well as the owners and operators.  That reporting, today, provides a valuable resource for understanding the intricacies of individual businesses ranging from apothecaries to wheelwrights.  The Dun Collection proved to be a critical component in telling the market story of the lower Fox Valley River region.  The records also helped demonstrate the business networks that were established with both the St. Louis market, which the historiography had indicated already existed, but also revealed a deep and growing connection with the Chicago market which previously had been more closely associated with the introduction of the railroad system in Illinois in 1852.

My last approach was to research government documents from the period.  Land sale records were used to establish migration and settlement patterns.  But Census data, from both the population and agricultural schedules, proved the most helpful.  The census data helped identify; occupations within the region, volumes of crops, livestock, and household manufacturing, and also to identify extra ordinary economic outputs from the county.  For example, by 1850, Green’s Mill in Dayton Township in LaSalle County employed a full third of the state’s woolen manufacturers yet the township recorded no sheep or local wool production in the census.  This is indicative of substantial wool importation.  The fact that the region imported raw materials to manufacture finished products is not in the present historiography.  Other products manufactured locally like shoes and wagons also supported a large workforce which further exhibits the economic diversity of the region.  Also the output of finished agricultural products such as cheese, wine, and syrup also help signify the complexity of the market beyond the grains and hogs that north central Illinois has become famous for over the years.

In employing the various methods together, I have been able to begin to tell the story of the lower Fox Valley River region’s market growth in the pre-railroad era.  To accomplish the research, I have had to travel to archives all over the state as well as across the country.  I would not been able to accomplish this feat without the generous help of many people here at NIU.  I have received both academic guidance and financial support that has offered me the opportunity to explore my research on a level that has exceeded my original expectations.  I would like to take this moment to thank a few of them, for without their support, I would not be sitting in front of you today.

First I’d like to thank,

Dr. Jim Schmidt, my senior thesis advisor and Dr. Bradley Bond, my Research Rookies mentor

Additionally, I’d like to thank,

Dr. Eric Mogren and Dr. Andrea Smalley, who both allowed me to work on components of my project in classes I took with them.

I’d also like to thank the rest of the NIU History Department for their continued support.  Outside of the history field, I have two very important people and their respective departments to thank, first,

Dr. Julia Spears and the OSEEL department for their continued support with Research Rookies program and with USOAR funding that allowed me to go to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to access the Dun Collection.

And to, Dr. Christopher Jones and the Honors department for selecting me for the University Honors Summer Scholar Program which provided funding to visit several archives across the state and time to properly research over the summer AND they provided an EYE grant which allowed me several follow up visits to The Newberry Library in Chicago.

Finally a huge thank you to all my friends here at NIU, especially those in the History Club, who supplied endless support, numerous peer reviews, and all of whom had to put up with a year of me talking about my research continually.

If I have forgotten anyone, please accept my apologizes and THANK YOU TO ALL.

Posted: October 11, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher

In the course of my research this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with a professor from Kazakhstan, who had just obtained her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at KIMEP University (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research). From our telephone conversation, I deduced that Western views on women’s issues do not always reflect the perspectives in other cultures. This reality is particularly true when it comes to the views of Kazakh women.  According to the professor, women in the Kazakhstan region are relatively content with their present situation and, in some cases, would prefer to remain in their traditional roles.

I also became aware that even though the countries of Central Asia attained their independence in December of 1991, it is impossible to neglect the continued influence of the Soviet legacy in this region. At the same time, I uncovered one obvious exception to the Soviet way of doing things. The ruling elites in these countries treat women differently relative to their Soviet counterparts.  This discovery shocked my “Westernized mentality.” 

During the Soviet era, women benefitted from quotas that endorsed gender equality in the workforce. They also enjoyed protection from religious practices such as polygamy in Uzbekistan, or being forced to wear traditional Muslim attire covering the entire body; family-based discriminatory practices, such as newlywed women becoming the sole providers for their own family and their in-laws’ families; and servitude-like conditions within the home as a result of family customs and traditions. 

All this information made me realize that the challenge I face in my research is beyond the mere understanding of the deterioration of women’s rights in Central Asia. It is a journey to make women aware that under the veil of returning to the former practices, which countries were deprived of by the Soviet Empire, stands a simple desire of men, once again to control, dominate, and veil their women. Almost everything that was prohibited during the Soviet era has been renewed and encouraged by the region’s government on the grounds of returning their countries to their longstanding traditions, of which they were forcefully deprived.  Furthermore, I recognized through my preliminary research that analyses of international treaties or legal records related to women’s empowerment would not be enough to understand the real situation inside these states. The ultimate test lays is gaining an accurate and more contextualized understanding of women’s perspectives on their rights in Central Asia.


The Challenges of my Research-Wayne

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes

The complexity of the research project that I am undertaking has been exhilarating, but at the same time, it has presented some expected and unexpected challenges.  The expected challenges are all part of the process of conducting research and the college experience. Examples include: unfamiliarity with a new aspect of history, heavy and tired eyes consuming reels of microfilm, and pouring through box after box of archival material only to discover all the fascinating items that I had just spent hours digging through have no use in my present project. I have come to the realization that these challenges are “par for the course” for a historian, and I have actually come to enjoy these experiences.

However, it is the unexpected challenges that have really tested me; and this project has presented me with a whopper. What is funny about the challenge is that every history professor that I have encountered has warned me about it.  That challenge is: historiographical debate. I had some knowledge of historiography prior to this specific project. But looking back, I must admit, it was mostly leaning heavily to one side. It became predictably easy. However, in the case of my present research, the predictability and ease are gone. The debate as to whether or not frontier settlers in the mid-1800s moved to western locales, such as Illinois, based solely on capitalistic intentions  is a major source of contention amongst historians.  Both sides have convincing arguments in support of their respective points of view. Academia has proven that historiography is alive and well by introducing a third theory, which describes the period as more transitional between the two.  The challenge that I face is to attempt to wrap my head around the different viewpoints, calculate where my research best fits in this debate, and then meld it within the scope of its broader context.

My Faculty Advisors-Wayne

Posted: August 16, 2012 in Wayne Duerkes

My mentor for the University Honors Summer Scholars Program is Dr. James Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is a professor of nineteenth century American history with expertise on the labor and legal fields of study. Dr. Schmidt’s general historical focus aligns with the approach that I wish to pursue in my study. However, what drove me to seek his assistance was his recent historical work. Dr. Schmidt’s book, Industrial Violence and the Legal Origins of Child Labor (Cambridge University Press, 2010),explores accidents of child workers in mills, mines, and factories in the late nineteenth century and how their subsequent legal battles helped shaped American society’s view of child labor.

I found Dr. Schmidt’s work fascinating on several levels. Instead of attempting to tell the story of the entire United States, he focuses on the South, providing a more intimate investigation as well as acknowledging American regional differences as important explanatory factors. I was also captivated in his ability to tell the story from one specialized category of primary source material. Primary sources, when available, are essential to capture a comprehensive story. Dr. Schmidt’s masterful utilization of over 100 court cases is especially impressive. The ability to use primary sources properly and effectively is an essential skill every budding historian desires to perfect. I chose Dr. Schmidt for his historical expertise and demonstrated skill in retelling a much overlooked American past, a skill that I wish to emulate.

I have also asked Dr. Bradley Bond, Dean of NIU’s Graduate School and a historian of the American South, for his assistance in my new project. Dr. Bond, who served as my mentor during my NIU Research Rookies experience, was instrumental in helping me develop my research, critical thinking, and writing skills. He has continually challenged me to concentrate on what are the truly important elements of the story and why these factors are significant.  Working with two excellent professors, a requirement in graduate school, will provide me with the expertise and guidance that I need to complete a superior University Honors Capstone.

My faculty mentor for the University Honors Summer Scholars Program is Dr. Kikue Hamayotsu. Dr.  Hamayotsu is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She is a native of Japan and a specialist in comparative politics. Her specific research and teaching interests are extensive. They include religion and politics, political Islam, Southeast Asian politics, democratization, state formation and bureaucracy, identity politics, politics and development in the Muslim World, political violence, and Ethnic Conflict.  In 2011, she was appointed a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI). ARI is located at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Hamayotsu’s research in Singapore has focused on religious intolerance and the quality of democracy in Muslim Southeast Asia. She has also published a number of scholarly journal articles and book chapters. I chose Dr. Hamayotsu as my mentor, because I enjoyed her Political Violence course. In her classes, she amazed me with her inexhaustible energy and her shining personality. She possesses great knowledge and experience in areas that pertain to my current study. Dr.  Hamayotsu has offered me valuable guidance in my research project and demonstrated a sincere desire to assist me with any challenges along the way.

I have also asked Dr. Michael Clarke to assist me given the value that these mentoring relationships provide me. Like Dr. Hamayotsu, Professor Clark is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and a specialist in comparative politics. He has worked with several students in the NIU’s University Honors Program, most notably the University’s 2011-2012 Student Lincoln Laureate, Nora Lindvall, who wrote her Honors Capstone under his direction. Impressively, Nora has received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Amsterdam with the goal of earning a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution.  Dr. Clark has been teaching at NIU since 2008. He offers undergraduate courses in Western European politics, British politics, research methods, and comparative politics. He has published his research in the American Journal of Political Science, the British Journal of Political Science, Electoral Studies, Party Politics, and Comparative Political Studies. Professor Michael Clark is honest, knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic. He is a great listener, and someone who guides you in the right direction by posing a number of challenging questions. Dr. Clark provides insightful feedback and has a good sense of humor.  He is personable and immediately made me feel very comfortable. He is inspired by Winston Churchill for keeping Britain together during World War II and standing up to Nazi aggression.  I admire Churchill’s speeches as well.

Both of my faculty mentors are smart, experienced, and always have my best interest at heart. I am grateful to NIU for providing me such an excellent selection of scholars to assist me with my challenging research project.

My decision to research the market in the DeKalb-LaSalle region of Northern Illinois during the mid-nineteenth century is threefold.  The particular focus of my research will broaden my knowledge in my chosen field of study, which in turn, will make me a more viable candidate for graduate school and allow me to contribute to the historic knowledge base of my hometown area.

As a student of history, my central focus is the United States of the nineteenth century. My first independent research project, which I completed last year, related to the Civil War; and the Civil War remains one of my major areas of scholarly interest.  However, discussions with my mentor and other history professors have led me to broaden my focus to other facets of U.S history during this era; and this project will allow me to refine what I have learned about this period. Thus far, the work has helped me significantly in developing a sharper picture of American society in the nineteenth century.

During my time at NIU, I have designed my academic experience to prepare me for graduate study.  To be successful in this competitive graduate admission process, a candidate’s application must stand out. With the assistance of the University Honors Summer Scholars Program, I have been able to devote special effort in completing an exceptional senior honors thesis that hopefully will demonstrate both my cumulative skills, ability to conduct scholarly research  and understanding of the discipline, thereby affording me an edge in the selection process.

Finally, I have lived most of my life in the DeKalb region and I have always enjoyed local history immensely, but the one era in local history that has been the least studied and least understood is the one I chose to study.  If through my research and writing, I can add to the knowledge of my hometown area for others to enjoy like I have, then I can think of no better capstone to my undergraduate experience at NIU.