Christopher Molina West earned his B.A. in History from CSU in 2013. He subsequently attended the University of Colorado at Boulder for a second undergraduate degree, earning a B.A. in Greek and Latin there in 2015. After graduating from CU, Christopher then took a year off from academic work and lived in Europe for six months with a community of Benedictine monks at the Monastero di San Benedetto located in Norcia, Italy. In Fall 2016, he began his Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Yale University, where he plans to study Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic Christianity with a focus on patristic literature.
In 2016, the National Park Service’s centennial year, the American West Program seeks both to celebrate the NPS and to examine significant issues in the past, present, and future of our parks. The National Park Service has recently signaled its deepening commitment to making the parks relevant and accessible to people of all races, ethnicities, ages, and genders. In a public event on Thursday, September 29th, the American West Program will take up this issue. A panel of speakers will share historical and contemporary perspectives on race and diversity as they affect experiences of nature, resource stewardship, and interpretation in the national parks.
The panelists will include Nina S. Roberts, Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism, San Francisco State University; Gillian Bowser, Research Scientist, Natural Resources Ecology Lab and Associate Affiliate Faculty, Department of Ethnic Studies, CSU; Ruth M. Alexander, Professor of History, Department of History, and Affiliate Faculty, Public Lands History Center, CSU; Camille Dungy, Professor of English, CSU; Alexandra Hernandez, National Heritage Areas Regional Program Manager, National Park Service, Intermountain Region.
This public event will be held on Thursday, September 29th, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm in the CSU Morgan Library Event Hall (first floor). Please invite colleagues, family, and friends to be a part of this essential discussion of our national parks.
The American West Program is an outreach series presented by the Public Lands History Center at CSU.
The Public Lands History Center (PLHC) has been chosen as one of CSU’s new Programs of Research and Scholarly Excellence for the next four years, beginning in 2016. This designation, conferred by the Vice President for Research, gives the PLHC a four-year graduate fellowship and the opportunity to apply for substantial amounts of internal CSU funding. It is extremely rare for programs or centers in the College of Liberal Arts to receive the PRSE designation.
The PLHC is a partnership of university-based historians who use history to shed light on contemporary problems. It sponsors a number of programs, including the America West Program, National Parks Beyond the Nation, the Western Water Symposium, and the Parks as Portals to Learning program. The PLHC also offers graduate students a number of opportunities to get involved in collaborative history projects with public lands agencies and to be employed as researchers. For more information, see the PLHC’s website.
The Department of History hosted its 51st annual Furniss Lecture series on April 28 and 29. Dr. Lynn Hunt of UCLA, who is an expert on the French Revolution, delivered two lectures. In talks on Thursday and Friday, she spoke about how a global perspective has influenced her study of history and then about what lessons from the debt crisis of the French Revolution can teach us about current financial markets.
Dr. Hunt also gave the keynote address at the Department of History’s banquet, which was held at the Hilton Hotel. Besides Dr. Hunt’s practical advice on how to write well, undergraduate and graduate students received awards. Dr. Mark Fiege recognized undergraduate winners Michaela Kimbrough, Alexis Deneice, Luke Simpson, Erik Johnson, Natalie Pace, Robert Ower, and Alexis Opper.
Dr. Adrian Howkins presented awards to graduate students Mark Boxell, Will Wright, Jessica Campbell, Sam Iven, Poppie Gullet, Maggie Moss Jones, and Sean Fallon.
Associate Professor Adrian Howkins recently published The Polar Regions: An Environmental History with the Wiley publishing group. He explained that his book has been fifteen years in the making and that it took a crooked path to publication.
Howkins, a native of England, attended the University of Texas for his graduate work in the hopes of examining the relationship between Argentina, Chile, and Britain. As he started his research, Howkins realized that no scholar had studied the Antarctic Peninsula. He approached his advisor with his idea of writing a history of Antarctica, and was met with a cool response. Howkins pressed on and, during a time when climate change was becoming an important topic of discussion, a study of Antarctica gained interest outside of the historical profession. As he completed his dissertation, Howkins learned that he would have to broaden his approach and incorporate international and environmental perspectives.
As his research gained momentum, Howkins knew that he would have to visit Antarctica. He has now made five visits to the frozen continent, twice to McMurdo Station and three times to the Antarctic Peninsula. Howkins notes that fewer than 2,000 people live in Antarctica in the winter (no surprise there) but perhaps 20,000 tourists visit the Antarctic Peninsula in any given year. Most of them are adventure tourists who hope to visit all seven continents (as a side note, Howkins has traveled to all the continents). Howkins has come to realize that the study of Antarctica shows that History has an important role to play in scientific research and political decisions for the continent.
Howkins is planning to write another book in a series that studies biomes, so he has expanded his research to include Alaska, Greenland, and Scandinavia. He also has secured a NSF grant to construct a historical photo archive of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. Graduate student Poppie Gullet will be assisting Howkins in the project and should be able to visit Antarctica as part of the project. Howkins also teaches an online class about the history of Antarctica and will be an instructor for Semester at Sea during fall 2016 semester.
In this interview with Prof. Deborah Yalen, Emmie Miller (B.A./B.S., 2012) talks about her fascinating research, her career plans, and how CSU helped her to pursue her dual passions for history and science. She is a PhD candidate in the Program for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota.
What is your program of study at the University of Minnesota, and what research questions are you pursuing?
I am a PhD candidate in the Program for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. I’m interested in understanding how eighteenth-century naturalists—the zoologists, botanists, and geologists of the past—conceptualized the Arctic as a place that was simultaneously barren and uninhabitable and yet populated by plants, animals, and humans. The questions I’m asking revolve around where ideas about specific environments come from, especially when newcomers approach an unfamiliar place with preconceived notions that do not match the reality of their experiences. In the 1700s, the line between what is science—fact—and myth—fiction—is not as clear as we think it is today, and this definitely informs the historical actors I’m investigating. Explorers in the Arctic are a window into understanding how science and myth are often not as separate as we think they are. Given the changing status of the Arctic and the Antarctic, it is important for us to understand how these places meant different things to humans in the past, just as they will mean different things to us in the future. Also, the way that these naturalists thought of the Arctic, as a place impossible to conquer because of its harshness, brings to the light the tragedy of the twenty-first century Arctic as a vulnerable, endangered landscape.
I think the best thing about graduate school and PhD studies is that you have so much freedom to think, question, and pursue your own interests. My interests have ranged from twentieth century model organisms to anatomical dissections of animals in the seventeenth century to the exchange of medical knowledge in the early eighteenth century. This intellectual wandering and freedom comes with its challenges, of course. It can be difficult as a young scholar because you have less guidance from more experienced mentors, but at the end of the day, your mistakes and your accomplishments are entirely your own. While scary at times, it is actually very liberating to control your own projects; it’s also very gratifying to know that you and your intellect are responsible for accomplishing such seemingly mammoth undertakings, like finishing your comprehensive exams, giving your first paper at a conference, or leading your first undergraduate lecture!
Ideally I would like to find a job at a liberal arts college. Despite the idea of the solitary historian hiding away in a library, it’s really a job that connects you with people! Teaching is by far the most fulfilling of these interactions, but I also love the scholarly community, so it would be great to end up in a teaching-heavy position at a college or university. However, the challenge of breaking into academia in recent years has required me to think about other things that I would like to do. Teaching is high on my list of back up positions, but I also love working with people more generally, and I’d be interested in administrative work at a university, but I’m also open to jobs outside of academia, or tangential, including College Board and other companies that are geared towards preparing high school students for higher ed.
How did your work in History at CSU help prepare you for your post-graduate studies? (Here you might also mention how you managed to get a post-graduate internship at the Smithsonian, and what you did there).
My work in History at CSU prepared me, on the one hand, for the intellectual rigor of graduate work. More importantly, and I think this is probably something special about the History department at CSU, my experience at CSU taught me a lot about what healthy mentoring relationships look like. The faculty at CSU were so supportive; that was a particularly positive experience. I also helped run the History Club under Dr. Gudmestad, and I still love participating in similar groups, but on a larger scale. My work with the History Club definitely prepared me for my work as the leader of the graduate student group associated with the History of Science Society, for instance—and we’re managing hundreds of people.
While my experience at CSU was definitely formative, I found that working outside of the university also helped me to prepare for graduate school. After I graduated, I did a 5-month internship at the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of Natural History. I was interested in environmental history, so when I decided to try for an internship, I looked through their listings and found a group that was hiring interns to help connect real plant specimens, sometimes over a hundred years old, to the contexts in which they were discovered. I ended up telling the stories of those plants, which for a historian who focuses on people, was a pretty cool thing to do. I think the key to securing an internship at the Smithsonian, and ultimately something that transfers to grad school and other applications, is to be very specific about what it is that you’re looking for—be picky! In the case of the National Herbarium, it really was a very good fit for my interests in animals and plants in history. I never completely got out of the expedition and natural history mindset, apparently, because I’m still doing similar research. The experience was also great for cultivating a sense of independence regarding projects. It also showed me just how cool public history can be!
Were there any specific experiences at CSU that especially influenced your career choices? Did any particular faculty in the History Department have an impact on your intellectual development and career path?
For me, one of the most influential aspects of my experience at CSU was engaging with so many scholars doing environmental history. I left CSU knowing I wanted to study environmental history, and I specialized that interest by approaching environmental history using the methods of the history of science. There were several faculty members who I feel particularly indebted to and who I think of often! The first of these really fantastic scholars is Mark Fiege, who advised me and told me about the history of science (most people don’t know this is a thing!). I recall taking my first environmental history class with Dr. Fiege and experiencing a revelation in the very first day of lectures, as I discovered environmental history and its usefulness in conceptualizing so many of our current environmental issues. I distinctly remember reading Bill Cronon’s “Kennecott Journey,” and trying to wrap my head around what environmental history was! There were many others, as well. I benefitted from getting to know Adrian Howkins, Thaddeus Sunseri, and Nathan Citino, who all challenged me in the best possible way. For instance, Dr. Citino showed me that history is really about critical thinking and analysis; his Middle Eastern history course persuaded me to go to graduate school in History because it was so difficult! That course was harder than all of the courses I took for my biology degree, with the exception of organic chemistry. It may be counterintuitive that these challenges brought about the realization that I wanted to continue my studies—torturous as they are—but graduate school is geared towards thirsty, driven learners, and that’s absolutely a part of me that was cultivated at CSU and in classes run by the fantastic faculty members of the History department.
Ashley Rogers (M.A., 2011), Director of Museum Operations for the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, recently spoke about how her education at CSU advanced her career. During her search for graduate schools, Rogers visited CSU and sat in on one of Dr. Ann Little’s classes. She was hooked, Rogers remembers, by “the intellectual stimulation.” Rogers said that her time at CSU taught her how to think like a historian. The skills that she learned in her graduate classes – “to think truly critically, and to question things and poke and prod at them” – are essential to her field and are ones that she tries to pass along to her employees.
A crucial turning point in her graduate career came during a break from classes. Rogers visited slave cabins while returning to North Carolina and decided she wanted to move back South and work at a site that interprets slavery. She met with Dr. Fred Knight for an independent study on African-American history. It was “the most intense book club ever,” she jokes.
Rogers credits her start at the Whitney Plantation to “pure gumption.” She volunteered and interned for two years and then worked for almost four years with History Colorado. Rogers learned a lot about running a museum, everything from “the curating, to the management, to the rat-extermination.” It was while she was at History Colorado that Rogers saw a story about the Whitney Plantation, one of the few museums in the United States that remembers slavery from the slaves’ perspective. She sent a long email to the plantation and then traveled to New Orleans and met John Cummings, the museum’s founder. Rogers sent her resume to Cummings’s wife and was successful in a national search for the museum’s director. She started work on September 1, 2014.
Rogers does almost everything at the Whitney Plantation, from giving tours to curating exhibits. She loves her job because she is “doing good, important work.” Almost every day she sees people “having difficult and heartfelt conversations about race, across racial lines.” She recently spoke about the Whitney Plantation for an American History TV program that aired on C-SPAN3, and you call see the full episode here.
Five teams vied for the highly-coveted crown of CSU Jeopardy champion, but the “Putin Fan Club” emerged as this semester’s winner. They slowly built their lead by relying on categories like American Sport History and Video Games. All teams had an opportunity to win once the Final Jeopardy category of “The Beatles” was revealed. The “Putin Fan Club” cemented their victory by providing the correct response to the all too easy clue: “This six word song was the Beatles’ first number one hit in America.” The night’s main drama came from an all-graduate student team’s pledge to deny Dr. Robert Jordan his first Jeopardy crown. The “Rad Student” team struggled early but finished behind Jordan’s “Redeem Team.” Jordan’s second-place finish ensured that he would remain the Susan Lucci of History Club Jeopardy, at least for the present. The night’s other notable occurrence was the awarding of the first ever trophy, pictured at left. The reason why a scary parrot in a broken cage is now the official trophy for CSU’s best minds is murky, but rest assured that future students will battle for the right to hoist the bird. For those of you who might wonder, the correct response was “What was ‘I want to hold your hand.'”
Dr. Eli Alberts is a recipient of the Research Grant for Foreign Scholars of Chinese Studies, offered by the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Central Library in Taipei, Taiwan. He will be on leave during the Fall 2016 semester to work on his project, “The Charter of Emperor Ping and the Late Ming Novel.” This builds on several years of research that Dr. Alberts has conducted on a genre of document that has circulated from South China to northern Thailand in villages of the Yao ethnic minority. Dr. Alberts also has an article forthcoming in the journal Asian Ethnicity. His contribution “From Yao to Now: Daoism and the Imperialization of the China/Southeast Asian Borderlands,” will be featured as part of a special issue dedicated to the topic “Religion and Ethnicity in Southwest China.”
Dr. Adrian Howkins has been awarded a NSF grant to construct a historical photo archive of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. In conjunction with his work with the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, the construction of a historical photo archive will help to facilitate a better understanding of the human history of this unique region (the McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice free region in the Antarctic continent). In particular, the archive will help to address questions about the spatial scale of human impact in the Dry Valleys, and the effectiveness of management policies in limiting these impacts. Research will take place predominantly in the United States and New Zealand, as well as Antarctica. CSU graduate student Poppie Gullett will be assisting Dr. Howkins on this grant.