Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

As a history major, my specific area of research is colonial America. In particular, I enjoy research that explores topics having to do with gender, colonialism and borderlands regions. For my senior writing project, I worked under the oversight of Dr. Laura Mitchell. I was introduced to Dr. Mitchell, who specializes in southern colonial African history, when I took a history colloquium, titled "Gender and Colonialism," that she taught last year. Although the class focused on colonial Africa, we were encouraged to do our own research on a topic of interest to us, as long as a major focus was gender and colonialism.. The major part of our grade for the class was for writing a proposal for our senior paper (history majors are required to write a research paper to fulfill their upper division writing requirement). I submitted a proposal that incorporated the three elements of my focus: gender, colonialism and borderlands. My research goal was to compare the level of power women possessed in colonial New France (now Quebec) with women of New England, and to write about my findings. Dr. Mitchell approved my topic and I spent the next quarter researching and writing the paper. At the end of the quarter, I had completed a 35-page research paper and compiled a database concerning 70 women who were born in New England but chose to live in New France (they were originally taken there as prisoners of war but had refused to return to their homes after the war's conclusion). After the paper was complete, Dr. Mitchell and I discussed revising it to meet the specifications of the UCI Undergraduate Research Journal. This involved cutting about a third of the text and changing from CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) to MLA style. Having to shorten the paper was difficult for me but in the long run made it much stronger.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I have been doing historical research for a number of years. My interest in this area started when I was a child and asked my parents about our ancestors. Like many people, their knowledge of their family tree only went back about three generations. I wanted to know more, so I started going to the National Archives in Laguna Niguel and looking at census records, ship passenger lists, and military pension documents. I was amazed to learn that our country has conducted a census of its residents every ten years since 1790! Later I began using my vacations for research and traveled to places where my ancestors lived to access local libraries and archives. Eventually, I was able to trace back over ten generations of my family tree. However, I wanted to know more than just names and dates. What were the significant historical events that influenced my ancestors' lives? Why did they come to America? What challenges did they face when they arrived here? I decided to go back to school and learn about history, writing and research from professional historians. Fortunately, I already lived in Irvine and didn't have to look far, because UCI is one of the top humanities research schools in the country. The decision turned out to be good one for me. Although I now do research with broader academic relevance, I still enjoy doing my own private research into my own family's history. Also, the more I learn about history, the more appreciation I have for the tenacity of the people that came before me.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Under my faculty mentor's supervision, I have improved my writing abilities considerably. For me, working one on one with a scholar like Dr. Mitchell was paramount in my development as a historical researcher and writer. Furthermore, I have become better at developing good research topics and finding original sources. One of the most important aspects of completing a major historical research paper is finding primary sources-documents like the census records, and passenger lists I found at the National Archives. They can also be court records, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts and documents that were kept to record events. It can sometimes be a challenge to locate detailed primary records pertaining to a particular historical problem. For example, in the Colonial era, education was accessible primarily to men and, because of this, there are fewer documents left by women. The records that do exist may be located in a variety of places, including university special collections, archives, historical and antiquarian societies, or even private collections. In addition to primary sources, historians work with secondary sources. Most of the written materials we are accustomed to seeing in libraries are considered secondary sources. They are interpretational in nature and are usually written about an event or phenomenon at a later date using primary and other secondary sources.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

My favorite experiences with research have happened when I have had the opportunity to work with historical documents that people have not looked at for generations. Two years ago, I went to the New York State Archives to review some old court records I thought might be helpful for a topic I was researching. When the archivist brought out the box of documents I ordered, I removed the cover to find stacks of papers covered with dust and wrapped in antique twine. The dates on slips of paper on each bundle indicated that they hadn't been unwrapped and looked at for over 200 years! At that moment I felt extremely privileged at being entrusted with the documents, if only for a few hours. After spending the day immersed in reading, it felt strange to leave the building and walk out into the bustling street with buses and cars whirring by me. It was almost like reentering the year 2003 from the early 19th century!

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My future plans include pursuing a doctorate degree in history. I am going to take a year off after graduating from UCI this spring with a B.A. degree in History and a minor in Anthropology. In the fall I will apply to graduate schools, including Stanford, UCLA, Yale and the Universities of Connecticut and Colorado. Also, I plan to take a number of trips during the coming year. In addition to traveling to the east coast and Colorado, I will be spending two weeks in South America this summer, including a trip to Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon. In December, I am going to Africa, where my activities will include a photo safari through Kruger National Park. I also will get a chance to see spectacular Victoria Falls. I'll end my vacation in Africa with a week in Cape Town. I am thankful for the instruction I have received from Dr. Mitchell on the history of South Africa, as it will surely make my trip more rewarding.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

I encourage my fellow students to embark on a faculty-mentored research project. In addition to the having the chance of getting their work published, the experience is satisfying and enriching. I have another bit of advice for anyone contemplating a research project-choose a topic that you feel passionate about. In addition for increasing your motivation, the sense of reward you will feel upon completion is greater if it is something that you hold dear.

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '05 Erin Curtis
Nov. '05 Elizabeth Black
Oct. '05 Chao Li
Sept. '05 Neil Saigal
Aug. '05 Evan Brown
Jul. '05 Dirk Groeneveld
Jun. '05 Alpay Dermenci
May '05 Eva Maria Rodriguez
Apr. '05 Christine Nyholm
Mar. '05 Erin Conn
Feb. '05 Nhu Vuong
Jan. '05 Jennifer Channual
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