Undergraduate Researcher Reflections

CCRF read the recent UChicago News article on "Mapping Chicago's 1919 race riots" and contacted the team of undergraduate researchers that contributed to the project. CCRF wanted to learn more about their research experiences and how researching with Professor John Clegg has shaped their education at UChicago, as well as their academic goals.

College Students discuss their Undergraduate Research experiences on the "Mapping Chicago's 1919 race riots" project:

Kian Yoo-Sharifi, Fundamentals, Class of 2022

Kian began research on the project in spring quarter and has continued into the summer. Kian said that their role on the project was to supplement the existing body of research "by trawling through the microfilm archives at the Harold Washington Library, reading newspaper reports for any new instances of injuries and updating already recorded locations/dates based on the additional context the reports provided."

Kian was asked about motivations for pursuing undergraduate research and how the experience is contributing to their education and future academic goals. Kian stated, "I’d like to be a[n] academic myself one day, and I’m deeply aware of the necessity of research: by learning more about college-level research methodology and getting familiar with different research mediums, I can design projects more effectively when the day comes that I have the chance to propose and carry out in-depth research. This project has made me much more aware of the processes that go into actually substantiating the claims that academic work seeks to prove, and prepared me somewhat for the work it’s going to require. If I want to understand topics broader (or more specific) than those covered in a freshman paper, then I have to be prepared to do months of digging, and to put as much work into creating a coherent research methodology as I do proposing an initial question." 

Finally, we asked Kian about the mentorship received from Professor John Clegg. Kian said, "Perhaps the thing I’m most grateful to Professor Clegg for was his ability to set clear research expectations, and then give me the autonomy to work within them. Whenever I was unsure of what I was doing or why I was doing it, he was always ready to meet and give me a concise explanation of the greater context behind my research, and then he was willing to trust me to understand and follow through. This dual clarity of purpose and freedom of movement allowed me to feel as if I was helping him, but also to operate as an independent researcher, who had to evaluate the parameters they were given without relying on someone holding my hand the whole time."

Bokyoung Kim (BK), Economics and Public Policy, Class of 2022

BK started on the project in January 2019 and was tasked to collect and record data from newspaper archives on incidents of violence, protest, and police and state responses related to the riots. Once the data collection was complete, BK said they "used GIS software to analyze the spatial details of the events to produce the animated map of the riots." BK noted that the project was presented in July during the centennial celebration of the 1919 Race Riots in Chicago but looks forward to presenting the team's research findings and map at the Social Science History Association Conference in November.

BK was asked how their research has contributed to their UChicago education and responded, "Given the very large focus on initial data collection, this project gave me the opportunity to think critically and analytically about the patterns that the data revealed. The actual mapping and spatialization of the data also helped me view the events that transpired from a very unique perspective. As I delve further into my studies in the College, I look forward to being able to explore data from diverse perspectives, as I have learned that they can often provide many different accounts of the same story."

Here is what BK said about researching with Professor Clegg, "Professor Clegg has been an incredible mentor as he has consistently strived to create meaningful experiences for us as Research Assistants. He has helped make the research process into very much a hands-on experience. Whether it be visiting the Chicago’s Coroner’s Office as part of my data collection or accessing the Special Collections and microfilms in the Regenstein Library, it has been an incredibly holistic learning experience for me."

Maggie Lu, English and Spanish, 2022 

Maggie has been working on the project since last December 2018 and is continuing research with Professor Clegg this summer on the Practices of Emancipation research project. Maggie said their role on the race riots project was to chart "the spatial dimensions of the 1919 race riots through archived newspapers, GIS mapping, and microfilms." Maggie added that "through the lense of race, we seek to provide insight into the history of segregation and its systematic institution lingering still to this day." Along with others, Maggie looks forward to presenting their research findings on the Chicago Riot of 1919 later this fall. 

Maggie shared motivations for working on the project and said, "The 'Red Summer' of 1919 is one of the most severe and devastating manifestations of racial conflict. Yet, my APUSH textbook in junior year of high school only glossed over the horrific details, using euphemistic language to describe the horrific stoning of an innocent black male. Being deeply invested in the intersection between racism, history, and socio-economic politics, I regard this research opportunity as a way to reclaim the gravity and gain deeper insight into racial politics that are still applicable with continued unrest and injustice in modern day police brutality, post Jim Crow hate crimes, and housing discrimination."

Maggie explained their extensive time spent at, and appreciation for, the University of Chicago Library for their research sources and activities. Maggie said, "From participating in hackathons at Crerar to exploring microfilms at the Reg, UChicago’s extensive library system quickly became the hub of my activities at UChicago, including my research. My research with Professor Clegg has been personally rewarding because it serves dually as a hobby and academic experience that contributes meaningfully to the larger community. As a research assistant, I got cozy with one library in particular: the Reg. I would often find myself running around--wrapping up a Spanish essay on the fourth floor of the Reg, heading to the first floor Ex libris café for an Espresso, and dashing back upstairs to a meeting with Professor Clegg and the team to learn about GIS mapping, Geo coding, and data visualization."

Maggie continued that "much of our research was conducted at the Regenstein Library, whether it be viewing the Special Collections, visiting the Center for Digital Scholarship and Research Computing center on the 2nd floor, or browsing through microfilms. I truly believe these aspects are a few hidden gems at The Regenstein. Like the Bookstacks study tables hidden behind cavernous mazes of bookshelves, there is also an extensive and oft unexplored collection of microfilms from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily Journal, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Defender, Chicago Sun Times, and countless others—all on the third floor of the Reg!" 

Maggie expressed her gratitude to Professor Clegg and stated, "He has been the catalyst in helping me discover new connections, people, and experiences relevant to my field of interest. He proved to be a thoughtful mentor by always making sure he had time for me to stop by and update him outside of his usual office hours. What’s more is that he actively engages our team by taking us to visit field professionals or places pertinent to the project like the Center for Data Visualization, the VUE Hackathon, the Coroner’s office, and the Harold Washington Library in downtown. With this diverse range of experiences, Professor Clegg has enabled me to see the multifaceted approach to archival research; on one hand, he taught me how to carefully digest and analyze historically preserved material, on the other hand, he has equipped me with the tools of powerful technologies afforded to us through data visualization, GIS mapping, and geocoding."

CCRF would like to thank the undergraduate researchers for their contributions to the research project and for sharing further details about their undergraduate research experiences. CCRF would also like to thank Professor Clegg, Collegiate Assistant Professor, for his faculty mentorship. Finally, CCRF appreciates and acknowledges the UChicago news team for featuring this important research at UChicago. 

Pictured (from left to right): BK, Kian, and Maggie