Undergraduate Research

Lauren Tannenbaum '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Lauren Tannenbaum '22

Portrait of Lauren Tannenbaum;
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Lauren Tannenbaum (she/her) is a History major conducting mentored research under Professor Tania Boster. Her project is titled “Interwar Leftist Communities of the Lower Hudson Valley, New York". 

Please describe your project: 

This project examines a specific part of the history of the Lower Hudson Valley region of New York during the interwar period. During this time, the region was home to a number of leftist communities, among them summer colonies, experimental schools, summer camps, neighborhoods, and at least one college. Many residents were Jews who worked in or around New York City. While the ambitions of these people differed, for many life centered around educating and raising children in ways consistent with their political ideologies. Since the end of my first year, I have been trying to piece together the history of these communities. This began as informal research but has since evolved into a Winter Term project, a private reading, and the beginnings of a capstone. 

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project: 

I am researching a cluster of leftist communities that existed in New York’s lower Hudson Valley in the interwar period. This project is centered on themes of education and politics, suburbanization, radicalism and anti-radicalism, and Jewish identity. Overall, I am trying to draw together information from a variety of sources to create a comprehensive picture of this region’s leftist history. 

Why is your research important? 

My research explores a largely unexplored side of the local history of the region I am from- that of anarchists, socialists, communists, and others trying to create utopia. This project has implications not just for the local history of my region, but also for the history of the American suburbs as a whole. 

How do you do your research?   

My research process rarely moves in a straight line. One of the central parts of it is archival research- this includes looking through documents at historical societies, university archives, and digital archives. Research for this project also relies on finding good secondary sources, such as books and articles, and reading them closely. In addition, a great deal of what I’ve learned has come from interviews I’ve done with people who have personal connections with the communities in question, such as people who have grown up in them. Things I’ve learned from these conversations have led me to ask new questions and seek out new sources to answer them. 

What are your findings so far?

One of my most significant findings so far is that the lower Hudson Valley was, for a period of time between the world wars, central to multiple education movements. There was an anarchist modern school and an important progressive school, both intended for young children, as well as a labor college for union organizers. Something I’m interested in is figuring out what it meant for these schools to be in the same place at the same time.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?

I took “Oberlin Oral History” with Professor Tania Boster in my first year of college. This class inspired me to look into the history of my own region and gave me the skills I needed to start this process. When I first learned of “red hill” in Croton, a neighborhood where many communists lived at certain points in the 20th century, I knew I had something exciting to research.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite part of the research process is how social it is. I’ve gotten to talk to so many wonderful people, from historians who’ve researched related topics to people with direct connections to the communities I am studying. It has taught me how much history there is that isn’t written down, and how different people bring different kinds of knowledge to the table. 

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Working with my mentor has helped turn my project from a casual pursuit to a formal research project. Professor Tania Boster has encouraged me to seek out different sources and consider things from different angles. Most importantly, she has taught me to take myself and my research seriously. She has provided so much support and encouragement for this project.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Doing independent research has given me a better understanding of how historians work. It has strengthened my skills in archival research and historical writing. I used to dread creating citations, but now that I understand how they can be useful in the research process I have a much easier time making them.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

There is always something to dig into! Things that might appear boring on the surface are often a lot more interesting than they seem. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people such as local historians, community members, or professional historians inside or outside of Oberlin. A lot of people really love to talk about their work or their lived experiences and will be kind enough to do so if you reach out to them.