For those who aren’t in our Age of Exploration class, we are currently undertaking our second project, an exploration of Reformation controversies in 16th-century Europe. We are not simply jotting down chronologies and important figures – we are choosing one of the recommended topic within the Reformation, such as Lutheranism or Judaism, and we then will use our knowledge on the time period to analyze part of a primary source relevant to our specific topic.
When we started this project, I am embarrassed to say that I knew virtually nothing about the Reformation, aside from the fact that it happened a long time ago and had something to do with Christianity. For the first couple days of investigation, I felt pretty confused about the different types of Protestantism and their doctrines, partially due to a complicated reading. After I did some general Reformation research of my own using online encyclopedias, I gained a fairly good idea of the sequencing and movement of the Reformation.
Once we learned about the Reformation in general, we were told to examine a topic that rested under the main umbrella. Available research areas included popular movements like Lutheranism and Calvinism, as well as other established religions like Catholicism and Islam. I have always been interested in religion, but in this case I wanted to know more about how state authority influenced religion. The English Reformation seemed to contain the answers to those questions.
I created a bibliography for the English Reformation and proceeded to take notes on my sources, all the while keeping an eye out for primary documents. One document that kept appearing was the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Anglican statement of doctrine and liturgy that is still used today.
I have found that following the list of specific tasks has been helpful in research efficiency. Currently I am combining steps nine, ten, and eleven, which involve creating a bibliography for my primary source, excerpting a page of the document, and taking notes to help analyze the source.
I made a plan for myself in order to finish the bibliography, read up on the Thirty-Nine Articles, and finally excerpt and analyze a page of text. I still haven’t decided what part of the Articles to analyze, because the majority seems very important and pertinent to the English Reformation, but I am hoping that with some more research, I will be able to make a choice.
I have to say that, halfway through the project, I’m in a lot better shape than I was during the last one. By no means am I a poster child for procrastination – indeed, my idea of “putting off” historical research is to do my math homework instead – but I definitely spent way too much time poring over agonizingly long sources during the last project. This time around, I feel like I am using my time wisely, and I doubt that I will spend a weekend frantically writing my blog on the Thirty-Nine Articles.
I like how this project has assumed a funnel shape, starting with a sweeping movement, revising into a more specific geographical or religious area, and finally narrow down to document that might only be representative of a minute part of our overall topic. At first I groaned about the hours I would have to pour into my first two research sessions, the Protestant Reformation and the English Reformation. Granted, I did spend two weeks educating myself about the religious movements in the 16th century before choosing my historical document, but there is no way that I would’ve been able to discuss the Thirty-Nine Articles in an educated manner without all my information. I probably wouldn’t even have found the Thirty-Nine Articles without learning about the English Reformation through a variety of sources. I have now realized that to understand a small fragment of history, it is often necessary to be knowledgeable about the broader and related topics.