History major Cori Simon ’12 (Lee’s Summit, Mo.) found out last spring that she’d been admitted into her top graduate school choice: a program on gender and women’s U.S. history at the University of Wisconsin. She credits her yearlong honors project with preparing her for the academic transition she’ll make this fall. “I have a better sense of what grad school is going to be like because of this research,” says Simon.
When it came to choosing an honors project topic, Simon knew she wanted to focus on something close to home. From an early age she’d heard of the 1854–61 Bleeding Kansas conflict, political violence that took place in present-day Kansas and Missouri around the question of whether Kansas would enter the union as a free or slave state. “But I always had questions,” she says.
Those questions centered on the popular narrative, which she says casts Kansas as a site of freedom and equality, glorifying the Northern perspective and vilifying the Southern one. For Simon’s honors research, she probed deeper by researching the involvement of African Americans and Native Americans, two groups whose voices have been historically excluded from the narrative. Simon focused her research on the roles that race and gender played in the conflict.
“We often learn about history through states, facts, and numbers, but we rarely talk about how history is shaped as it happens.”
Digging deeper into primary sources about Bleeding Kansas was also a lesson on studying history. “I saw how history is shaped by how prominent individuals write about it at the time,” she says. “We often learn about history through states, facts, and numbers, but we rarely talk about how history is shaped as it happens.”
She credits history professors Andrea Cremer and Lynn Hudson with guiding her through the project. “They helped make my project more cohesive and substantial, because it’s rare to have African American and American Indian perspectives in the same narrative,” says Simon. “Getting into primary sources and dealing with large research questions—and working closely with those two professors—was such an amazing experience.”