Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg—Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
The Center for Research Libraries was especially pleased to honor Professor Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg of the Carnegie Mellon University History Department with the 2011 Primary Source Award for Teaching for her “Historical Evidence and Interpretation” undergraduate course. Professor Eisenberg worked with Mary Wilke, CRL’s Member Liaison and Outreach Services Director, to enhance the course focus on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, using relevant CRL holdings for the core of the class research experience. Students immersed themselves in middle-eastern newspaper collections, radio broadcast transcripts, and other primary source materials held by CRL.
The course considered how historians practice their craft in interpreting great events. The class read a recent account of the war and compared it to other secondary accounts, as well as a variety of primary source materials such as memoirs, documents, speeches, newspapers, maps, eyewitnesses, and UN resolutions. Students were asked to consider whether the sources support the new text or if there are other interpretations that might lead to different conclusions, and they explore competing or contradictory interpretations and differing accounts put forward by civilians and veterans, and other scholars. They examined how politics, the availability of new archival sources, and the passage of time can bring about a rethinking of past events. Students also developed a familiarity with the skills required to identify a research topic, pose researchable questions, find and work with many kinds of sources, create a strong thesis statement, gather evidence, and present their findings persuasively.
CRL Member Liaison Mary Wilke describes: “I especially enjoyed working with Laurie because she was teaching undergraduates what historians do. They need to identify, investigate, and look at records and evidence and weigh everything they find.” CRL digitized two Arabic newspapers in English for the course—The Egyptian Gazette (pictured) and The Daily Star from Lebanon—over the time period of the Six-Day War so that students could examine coverage. CRL also offered transcripts from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, so that students could study the radio broadcasts. Wilke continues, “The addition of these primary sources to the ones already accessible at Carnegie Mellon (such as the Jerusalem Post) allowed Laurie’s students to see other viewpoints and to weigh the effects of the coverage from more than one perspective. It was very clear in some cases that what was reported was biased. I especially appreciated learning that her students were as excited as I had been about the course. I understand that at least one student determined his own future course of study as a result of this class.”
By working extensively with the CRL resources early in the semester, students were then able to use their newfound skills in interpreting historical evidence as they pursued their individual research projects. For most undergraduates, this constituted their first opportunity to analyze and interpret primary source material for themselves.Many went on to represent the Carnegie Mellon History Department at the annual conference of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Phi Alpha Theta chapter, with papers on topics including: “Redemption and Reconciliation: The Impact of the 1967 War on the Political Career of Anwar Sadat”; “Unraveling the Myth: the Specious Social Mobility of the Israeli Woman Soldier following the 1967 Six Day War”; “Leveraging Lies: The Impact of Egyptian Radio Propaganda during the 1967 Arab-Israel War”; and “The Palestinianization of Israel’s Arabs Beginning in 1948: A Louder Voice.” Several were selected to present their papers at national conferences as well, with reliance on primary source documents as the hallmark of the work of these students.