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HIST 160 Research Paper

Choosing a Vassar Topic

There are myriad topics relating to the history of Vassar College. We have compiled a few lists of general topics to consider to help you get started, but these lists are by no means exhaustive and should be used to generate your own more specific ideas The best way to decide which area you want to explore is, simply, to explore. Browse the attached lists, think about your interests and how you might turn them into a research question. Also, never forget the power of serendipity; You never know what you might find while you're looking for something else.

From the specific to the broad

One approach to framing a topic about Vassar history is to investigate Vassar-specific issues, people, events, etc., then think about how to place them in a larger historical context. Here are some examples of topics that could work in that way:

  • Siginificant individuals involved in the founding and early development of the college (Matthew Vassar, Milo Jewett,  Benson Lossing, Sarah Josepha Hale, John Raymond, James Taylor, etc.)
  • Faculty who had a significant impact on the development of the college (Maria Mitchell and Lucy Maynard Salmon are obvious choices, but the Vassar Encyclopedia has a useful list of other possibilities)
  • Development and evolution of the curriculum  (could include a number of topics, from early comparisons with men's colleges to the development of interdisciplinary programs, such as Women's Studies, Africana Studies, etc.)
  • Fears about the health of educated women in the 19th century
  • Debate about how education affected women's marriagiability and fertility
  • Maids’ Club House/Good Fellowship Club (Issues relating to the college's non-teaching staff)
  • Changing attitudes toward athletics (includes a wide range of issues from 19th century conventions to Title IX to the facilities problems that arose when Vassar became coeducational)
  • Athletics:  A particular program: an aspect of its history
  • Celebrations around the 50th Anniversary of Vassar's opening (1915)
  • Student Government
  • The development of the Alumnae/i Association and its involvement with the college
  • Theater (the Experimental Theater as well as less formal student dramatic productions)
  • The Art Center
  • Music at Vassar
  • Religious Life and Secularism
  • Student life - Parietals and Regulations
  • Faculty and student involvement in Poughkeepsie (town-gown relations)
  • Coeducation
  • Student Activism
  • Changing attitudes toward race
  • LGBTQ issues (Smashing, Boston marriages, Wolf Girls, Homo Hop, etc…)
  • Campus landscape and architecture
  • Euthenics
  • Water pollution on campus

From the broad to the specific

Another approach is to look into how the Vassar community experienced or responded to a particular event, issue or time period.  Examples include:

  • Women's suffrage
  • The Great Depression
  • The World Wars
  • McCarthyism
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The Vietnam War
  • Presidential Elections

Browse Special Collections' Lists

A full list of what is available for research in the College Archives can be found on our Archives Collections page. Below are a few collections that cover a broad range of Vassar topics and can be used not only find actual source material, but to help you connect with a topic that might interest you.

  • Archives Files: contain 19th and early 20th century material, includes photographs, and are closed to additions.
  • Biographical Files: contain 19th, 20th and 21st century material, include photographs, and do receive additions.
  • Subject Files: generally date from the 20th and 21st centuries, do not include photographs, and do receive additions.
  • Photograph Files: include photographs and other images relating to the college, generally date from the 20th and 21st centuries, and do receive additions.

Other Avenues of Exploration

The Vassar College Digital Library

The Vassar Encyclopedia

Vassariana Bibliography (Please note that this list is somewhat outdated, but might still be useful depending on your interests)