The Junge Mommsen – a Digital Student Magazine Publishing Exemplary Term Papers

By Paul Diekmann

Paul Diekmann is studying history and American studies at Humboldt University in Berlin and is currently working on his bachelor’s thesis about the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. His remote internship at the GHI from August to Oktober 2021 has not only advanced his thesis a lot, but also allowed him to work on a variety of historical projects while broadening his skills. Being an active member of the student council at his home university, he has participated in every edition of the Junge Mommsen so far – twice as editor, once as an author.

 

The Junge Mommsen was born in 2018 at our student council’s annual summer retreat. Because most exams at Humboldt University’s department of history take the form of term papers, we thought about ways of sharing examples of good papers. Somebody mentioned that there already existed a cabinet with term papers that received good grades in our student council’s room. However those were accessed only once or twice a semester – there had to be a way to make this collection more accessible. Then we came up with the idea to turn it into a digital magazine.

Over the course of the following months we developed a strategy of creating such a magazine. We had a few meetings to figure out a mode of selecting the papers that would be published. And, most importantly, we came up with a name: The Junge Mommsen (young Mommsen) is named after our institute’s mascot, Theodor Mommsen – himself an historian at the university of Berlin, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his Roman History in 1902. Our magazine’s aim was to help those “young Mommsens” at our department. Finally, early in 2019, we could announce our first call for papers.

The requirements are relatively simple: The paper had to be submitted during the last academic year with a grade no worse than 1,7 (which parallels an A-) and it had to meet the official standards set by the department of history. Once we had a sufficient number of papers submitted, we selected the ones we would publish. One of our editors has anonymized the papers, so we wouldn’t be biased in our decision if we knew one of the authors. Then each paper was reviewed by at least two editors and evaluated in three categories (readability, argumentative structure and creativity of the topic). Once every paper was reviewed, all of us met and discussed which papers we wanted to publish. Generally, we didn’t just look at the paper’s quality, but also tried to get a well-rounded mixture of papers: At least one from each of the three main historic periods (ancient, medieval and modern times), papers written by both undergraduate and graduate students and preferably one paper written in English (while most classes and exams are in German at Humboldt-University, there are some classes for graduate students in English). After the selection process we worked with the authors to standardize the format of the papers, especially the footnotes and got their consent to publish their paper. Finally, we publish the papers.

From the beginning we were using digital methods to make the Junge Mommsen as accessible as possible. Our website, run via Humboldt University’s edoc-server, serves both as the portal to submit papers as well as the main access to the finished editions of the magazine. This digital publication method greatly helped us to keep the magazine alive when Covid-19 hit: Although we couldn’t meet in person to discuss the papers, we could easily work on them from home and use online platforms to coordinate our tasks. So, the project could be continued after the first edition and we could publish the second edition in the summer of 2020 with only a slight delay. While both the first and the second edition were eventually printed as well, most readers prefer to download the digital version.

While the Junge Mommsen isn’t perfect – it comes with the usual setbacks and delays of a project run by students in their free time – it’s definitely a huge improvement to the old method of keeping some good term papers in our student council’s room. Our main objective is to give young students examples of what is expected from them in a term paper. We’re certain our digital magazine is much more successful in offering this kind of example than the old cabinet with old copies. The response to it has also been mostly positive, both by students and professors. This year we even won Humboldt University’s open access award.

Link to the Junge Mommsen’s website: https://www.junge-mommsen.de/