Learn by Doing

The Historian's Craft

One of the most exciting elements of historical research is getting to dive into primary sources like letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, and debates. In all of our lower-division classes, you will get to investigate these types of sources alongside learning the broad sweep of the time and place you are in. For instance, students in a Scandinavian Immigration class explain the story of a newly immigrated Norwegian family based only on the contents of their luggage. Those studying public history will write local history stories for a Winneshiek county historical association publication. Those studying modern U.S. history visit the Luther archives to try to figure out why black students took over the dean’s office in the 1970s and to touch and read hand-written letters Weston “Butch” Noble sent home after liberating a concentration camp.

Research Based Courses

History students in upper division courses research topics of interest to them related to the broader theme of the course. This course-driven research deepens their understanding of the topic at hand and allows students to develop their own area of expertise within the general topic. From this work, students produce papers and classroom presentations. Some will present their work at the Student Research Symposium each Spring.

Topics from Recent Courses:

  • 321 Top. in U.S. Hist: The U.S. and the Cold War;
  • 321 Top. in U.S. Hist:The History of the Hawaiian Islands
  • 331 Top. in African American Hist: Criminal Justice in the U.S., 1740-2000
  • 355 The Reformation in Renaissance Europe
  • 362 Top. in South Asian Hist: Making India Hindu
  • 485 Jr-Sr. Seminar: African Americans, Jazz and the Great Depression
  • 485 Jr-Sr. Seminar: Slavery in Africa
  • 485 Jr-Sr. Seminar: Family in Modern Europe


Many history majors complete internships in Decorah, Chicago, Washington DC, and abroad before graduating. You will find many of their stories on our internships page.

Academic Administrative Assistantships

Students can also gain hands-on experience working individually with professors by assisting professors on their own research projects. Working as an academic administrative assistant is part of the work study at Luther. Through these opportunities, students get a more detailed experience in document analysis, quantitative and qualitative research, and editing. Recently, Dr. Sharp had a student assist her with a literature review on recent works published on African American business history and another student collecting evidence from archaeological reports from Charleston, South Carolina. As editor of the Norwegian-American Historical Association, Dr. Peterson has two student AAA workers assisting with editorial work for journal Norwegian-American Studies.  

Student-Faculty Collaborative Summer Research

Faculty and students in the history department regularly participate in the college wide Student/Faculty Collaborative Research summer program. Such projects normally arise as the result of conversations between history faculty members and individual students regarding their shared interests. From these conversations, the student and the faculty member submit proposals. A recent topic was conducting oral histories of the members of the Luther College Band trip across the iron curtain for a documentary about the subject. Another student interviewed a transwoman and her wife about their experience of the former’s late in life transition. The student then submitted the transcripts to the University of Minnesota Tretter Project archives. There are normally 1-2 collaborative projects annually from the History Department.

Learn more about the student-faculty collaborative research program.