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.


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