Episode 066: Simon P. Newman, How Historians Find Their Research Topics


How did average, poor, and enslaved men and women live their day-to-day lives in the early United States?

Today, we explore the answers to that question with Simon P. Newman, a Professor of History at the University of Glasgow and our guide for an investigation into how historians choose their research topics.

About the Series

Doing History episodes will introduce you to historians who will tell you what they know about the past and reveal how they came to their knowledge.

Each episode will air on the last Tuesday of each month in 2016.

This series is part of a partnership between Ben Franklin’s World and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Simon NewmanIn this episode, we investigate how historians choose their research topics by exploring the day-to-day lives of the urban poor in early America. Our guide for this exploration is Simon P. Newman, Professor of History at the University of Glasgow.

During our investigation, Simon reveals information about life for the urban poor in early America; How plantation slavery developed in the British Atlantic World; And, the intellectual journeys that led him to his various research projects.

What You’ll Discover

  • Life for the urban poor in early national America
  • Size and population of early American cities
  • How disease affected poor people in early American cities
  • How historians find research topics
  • How Simon found his first book project: Festive culture in the early American republic
  • Overview of how plantation slavery developed in the British Atlantic World
  • How Simon found his plantation labor and slavery project
  • The role historic sources play in how historians find their research topics
  • Daily life for poor people in Philadelphia during the late 18th century
  • How Simon researched the bodies of poor people
  • How historians research difficult topics like death and slavery
  • What Simon does with all of the research ideas he doesn’t have time to pursue
  • How Simon knows he has found a topic he wants to research
  • The collaborative nature of historical research
Walnut Street Goal
Walnut Street Goal, Philadelphia, 1799


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

Simon, if you could travel back in time, is there a research topic that you would tell yourself to pursue because you did not undertake it for some reason?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

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