Honors in the Major: Carlos Campos and “’Tongue of Silver, Heart of Gold’: The Life and Work of Clarence Darrow”

Thu, 05/11/23
Clarence Darrow Feb. 1 1926

I am Carlos Campos from New Port Richey in Pasco, Florida. I loved my history classes in high school, and that made me become a History major at college. I like studying modern history: Cold War, World War II, the processes of globalization.

What is your project about?

For my HITM project, I am working on one of the key figures of the progressive era, Clarence Darrow (1857-1939). Darrow was a landmark figure, a man ahead of his time who was opposed to the eugenics movement, prohibition, and international conflicts.  Darrow was born in Ohio; he began practicing law there. His parents had been abolitionists and free thinkers and were outsiders in their community. Darrow followed in those footsteps.

I am calling my thesis ‘“Tongue of Silver, Heart of Gold:” The work of Clarence Darrow.’ Darrow was a master of debate and rhetoric, a master of the courtroom. One of his famous cases involved him convincing an all-white jury that a Black man was not guilty of killing a white man. He laid out the racism involved in the case and persuaded the jury to let the accused go.

I am looking at Darrow’s life, trying to establish a comparison between Darrow’s and Christ’s life. He had these ideas that were novel and radical for the time. Today, those ideas strike us as going in the right direction. Darrow argued against the unequal distribution of wealth, against the unequal treatment of women both in the workplace and in the home, against racism and any discrimination of any kind. Darrow saw all human lives as equal to one another, and that is why he spoke out against injustices that he saw, such as the eugenics movement, for example.  I am looking at his strengths and virtues throughout his life and drawing comparisons to the life of Jesus.

How did you decide on your research topic? 

I took a class with Dr. Stoltzfus on Weimar and Nazi Germany, and I enjoyed his class. I often stayed behind to talk with him, and at one time he said, “I have a friend who is very much interested in mentoring a student for an honors paper. Would you be interested?” So, I agreed, and I talked to the other professor, Dr. Maier Katkin, who suggested working with me on a paper on Clarence Darrow. He did not suggest a particular approach. I started reading around and was surprised by the opinions Darrow held already in the 1920s and 30s. These opinions became mainstream only much later. I agreed to work on this topic.

Did your conversations with your advisor lead to any changes or revisions to your research topic?

I narrowed down what I wanted to work on in my paper with the help of Dr. Maier Katkin. We talk a lot. At the very beginning of the process, we watched a lot of documentaries on the progressive era, on its landmark figures. That allowed me to get a feel for the values that underlay Darrow’s life. Now, as I am writing, we meet regularly to discuss how the thesis is going, what needs changing. One of my concerns is not to write a hagiography but a critical take on Darrow’s life. I want to find out who he was as a person, I want to do a character study.

Dr. Maier Katkin is helping me stay balanced and helping me with improving my writing.

What sources are you using for your project?

I am using digital and printed sources: newspapers, letters, transcripts from court proceedings, speeches and debates, his autobiography, biographies, everything I can get my hands on. A number of his works have been published in collections, his letters for example, as well as transcripts from his court cases. His closing arguments are famous and have been published in a lot of legal publications. 

Were you nervous to take “the leap” on such a big project?

I was really nervous in the beginning. Dr. Maier Katkin has really high expectations. I can’t just do this paper on the side so that I can graduate with honors. He expects me to do the best work I can. Most of my energy goes into working on this paper. When I send him a draft, he will return it covered with suggestions for edits, changes, improvements. My writing has got so much better because of his feedback.

What would you say a day in the life of an Honors in the Major student looks like? 

That really depends on the day. There are three days a week when I don’t have to go to in-person classes. On those days, when I am working on my paper, I might only get up from the chair six times during the entire day to eat and go to the bathroom. Other than that, I am reading, writing, working. The HITM project is the foremost thing that I am working on. It is not a project that I am doing on the side. I really want this paper to be the best it possibly can be.

I spent most of the summer plus the beginning of the fall semester in the research phase. That’s when I watched the documentaries and read books on Darrow to get an idea of what he was about. Then I was able to narrow my project down and concentrate on writing the thesis.

Overall, would you say the process of completing your project is more fun or stressful?

It is both. It is fun if I can work consistently and focus on my work. If I am slacking, then I begin to feel stressed. The paper is close to being finished, but it isn’t done yet. And I need to get it done. The best way for me to destress is to go to the Leach center and lift weights or to go for a run. Sometimes, cooking helps me relax too.

By the completion of your project, what do you hope to have gotten out of this experience?

This thesis has been very helpful for my writing ability, my work ethic, and my communication skills. Going into the project, I thought I could write well, as I had got good grades in all of my classes. But then when Dr. Maier Katkin started reviewing my work, I got back pages full of red marks, and was being told, ‘This doesn’t read well, that needs to be changed.’ That was disheartening at first, and I thought: ‘Have I been wasting my time in the other classes? What is happening?’, but now when I look at some of my old writing, I can see how much I have improved. That’s a good feeling. I am very happy about that.

Work ethic wise, the HITM project definitely forces you to be very self-reliant. You have to stay on the ball. The way I am working with Dr. Maier Katkin is that I send a draft whenever I think it is ready. That might sound ideal as there are no deadlines, but I came to realize very quickly that the responsibility to get stuff done was on me. I have to be proactive. I have learned to ignore my desire to submit perfect work. I know that I need to get the next section done, and then send it for review, and it will come back with lots of comments and suggestions for improvement. I’ll work with those and move forward.

I have really learned to be professionally aware and to stay on top of my email inbox. There are a lot of emails that come from the Honors in the Major program, and in the beginning I made the mistake of assuming that emails weren’t meant for me specifically, so I did not read them. Nor did I email the people I needed to be in touch with. I also underestimated how much time some things might take, and then close to the deadline, I realized that I had less time than I had thought, and I had to ask for an extension. Now, I am much more on the ball, and I am proactive about talking to people and asking questions.

What goals did you have in mind when you initially set out to complete this project?

When I first found out about the Honors in the Major program, I did not really know what to expect. I thought: “I don’t have to do this to graduate as a History major.” Weirdly, it was my barber who told me to go ahead with the project, she told me to try it out. “If you don’t try, you’ll never know what the experience is like.” I don’t think I had any long-terms goals when I started the project other than hopefully being mentored by someone who could teach me things and help me improve my writing and academic skills.

What advice would you give to students currently contemplating an Honors in the Major project?

I have two pieces of advice. First of all, whatever you are doing your project on, you need to be interested in it and invested in it. To do a good paper, you will have to do a lot of reading, a lot of research, and you have to immerse yourself in the time period you are working on. You have to be committed to that. You have to care about your project. Otherwise, you are likely to hate the whole experience. And, when you look back on your project, once it is completed, you should feel good about it, you should feel that the work you did was worth all of the time and energy you spent on it.

Second thing, if you are going to be doing an HITM thesis, be very proactive and stay on top of everything: emails, meetings, and the actual project. Also, find a good professor. You need someone who cares about you and the project. Someone who will take you under their wing and teach you how to do good historical work and good writing.

If you were to start your Honors in the Major project over today, what would you do differently?

I am not sure I would do much differently. I would not have learned what I did unless I had made all the mistakes I did. It is one thing to tell yourself, “I need to respond to emails, I need to meet the deadlines, I should be reading more consistently.” But if you get to the end of the semester and feel you could have done better, then you know that you need to do more in the next semester. All of my mistakes have been valuable learning opportunities, and I would go back and make them all again.

There is one thing I might do differently if I could go back. While I was reading about Darrow, I took down all those notes and quotes which I thought I would use in the paper. But as it turns out, I am not using them at all. My time would have been better spent with me reading more rather than spending so much time taking photos of quotes. I was too caught up in the details to see the big picture, but now that I see the big picture, I don’t need all the details that I had gathered. I feel that if I had read more and thought about what I was reading, I would have spent my time better.