Molly Buffington, a History major in her junior year at UA, is writing an honor’s thesis on Lutheran liturgies, and the ways that theology about the sacrament was communicated to the congregation through these songs. German liturgical texts in the 16th and 17th centuries, though often overlooked in historical scholarship on the Protestant Reformation, reflected ongoing debates about developing Lutheran theology, specifically understandings of the Eucharist. These songs were a vital way to impart information about Lutheran belief and practice to popular audiences, who would still have been largely illiterate during this time period, and allowed church leaders to define what it meant to be Lutheran, to criticize the theology espoused by rival protestant denominations, and to preach a comforting gospel to parishioners.
While all History majors write a paper utilizing in-depth historical research in the undergraduate research seminar (HY 430), the undergraduate honor’s thesis is an opportunity to undertake a more substantial original research project. Students pursuing the thesis option take a series of classes on primary source research and historical writing (HY 399 and 498), and then go on to write their thesis under the supervision of their advisor.
Part of the reason why Molly chose UA was because of the robust opportunities for undergraduate research. “I knew about the thesis option when I came to Alabama,” she noted, “and I always knew I wanted to write one.” She had been interested in the Protestant Reformation since high school and, after taking Dr. George McClure’s course on the subject, asked him to supervise her thesis.
In order to research her topic, Molly has traveled to several archives around the country, including the Newberry Library in Chicago. There she examined hymnals brought to the United States by German immigrants, as well as books of church ordinances, which laid out specific liturgies that churches should use. Examining these texts, Molly has been able to understand the ways that Lutherans used common rituals and songs to differentiate themselves from other, more radical, protestant sects. She will be presenting the results of her research at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference (URCA) this spring, and plans to present at a research conference run by the Honors College next fall as well.
Molly does not yet know what career she will pursue when she graduates next year, though she is confident that it will be one that utilizes the skills that drew her to history in the first place; a love of research and writing, and creative approaches to solving problems. As a young girl who went from writing “weird stories about trains when I was six” to tackling a substantial project based on primary source research as a young adult, the History Department is confident that we can expect great things from Molly, whatever path she treads!