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The value of working with original documents

  • A rare opportunity
    A rare opportunity  Students (from left) Amanda Scott, Eric Schmalz and Kimberly Bassett examine a manuscript from the very early medieval period at the Diocesan Archive, Pamplona, Spain.  
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When the Spanish archivist Peio Monteano produced a 13th-Century ceremonial on the coronation of English kings, Kimberly Bassett knew that this was an opportunity few other researchers-let alone undergraduates-ever get.

"He just pulled it out and slapped it down on the table like it was no big deal, and I was trying my hardest not to breathe too hard on the ornately decorated pages of Latin," she said. "The realization that even most of the scholars studying these works wouldn't get to see them in person was pretty incredible."

Bassett was one of three William & Mary undergraduates who joined history Professor Lu Ann Homza on a research trip to Pamplona, Spain over Spring Break to peruse two sets of archives and get a better understanding of Spanish history through the hand-written accounts of the people who lived it.

To prepare for the trip, which was funded by the Mellon Foundation, the students took a once-a-week paleography seminar with Homza during the fall 2008 semester to learn how to read the handwriting. Finally, the group left for Spain on March 6 and returned on March 14.

During the trip, the students visited the Diocesan Archive of Pamplona and the Royal and General Archive of the Kingdom of Navarre. They were each required to read texts and "then work to contextualize them," said Homza. Bassett, a sophomore majoring in history and Chinese, focused on the role of young children during witch trials. Eric Schmalz, a junior history major, also investigated the trial documents in the archives. Amanda Scott, a senior who is majoring in both history and Hispanic studies, researched clerical misbehavior during the trip.

Bassett said that she felt honored to be included in Homza's research and benefit from her international connections.

"I think it's a perfect example of William and Mary's ideal professor-student relationship, where the professor not only teaches factual information, but also becomes a close mentor," she said.

The students presented their findings at the first undergraduate research symposium in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.   i