Saturday, June 18, 2011
I just arrived in New York this afternoon for the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s History Scholars Program. After a few students who go to universities in the city and a student from Suffolk University in Boston, I had one of the shortest trips! Since arriving a few hours ago, I’ve met students from all around the country, including Virginia, Tenessee, New Mexico, California, Washington, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. I even met a student who goes to NYU but is originally from London. Geographically, we’re a pretty diverse group.
As I was riding the train from South Station in Boston to Penn Station in Manhattan (completely reimbursed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, by the way: history gives you great opportunities to travel for free!), I was trying to quell my anxiety that I would be the only student from a small liberal arts college; I expected everyone in a program like this to come from much larger schools with more recognizable names. However, as we went around introducing ourselves, it seemed we all suffered from the same anxiety! Many of us came from small liberal arts colleges with small classes and plenty of support from professors who took us on as mentees. Several students spoke highly of one particular faculty member, perhaps an advisor or a professor they’ve taken several classes with, who they claimed they wouldn’t be here without. Faculty members who go above and beyond “the call of duty” to put in the time and effort to help interested students get the most out of their education are a priceless resource, a resource that only a tightly-knit community like Assumption’s can provide. Take advantage of it!
As we dined with tables pushed together in a family-owned Greek restaurant nearby, we learned that our interests in American history are just as far-flung as the places we’re coming from. I’m most interested in the period called the Early Republic, broadly defined by historians as the period between 1776, when independence from Great Britain was declared, to the mid nineteenth century, before the start of the Civil War. In this respect, I’m in the minority here! Many students in the program are interested in the twentieth century, specifically the United States during World War II. Others are interested in researching the Antebellum Period and the Civil War, which, fortunately for them, is the period that our week-long program will be focusing on. While I’m most interested in social and cultural history, that is, the experiences of ordinary people and how they conceived of their world, other students were more interested in military history, political and/or diplomatic history, or economic history. Even in targeting students interested in American history, the Gilder Lehrman Institute managed to gather a group of students with a wide variety of interests. It reminded me of one of the many reasons I love history: because there are infinite possibilities as to what one can study, and all topics are equally relevant, no matter how obscure they seem. If you find yourself saying, “I’m interested in too many things to decide on one to study,” then history is a perfect fit. You’ll never run out of topics to explore.
History also offers a variety of career choices; in the week to come, we’ll be talking with a high school teacher, a publisher, two documentarians and a plethora of archivists and librarians to show us just how much you can do with history. You could take the traditional academic route that I plan to take, that is, going to graduate school, earning a PhD, and becoming a professor, but there are many other career options for people who study history. At Assumption, many (if not most) of my classmates in my history classes are education concentrators, but clearly there are many other routes one could take. Again, with history, the possibilities are endless. As the week goes on, I’ll be curious to see what everyone’s plans are for after graduation.
Well, I’m off to bed—we’re staying at Barnard College, an affiliate of Columbia University. I’m so psyched for the rest of this week—I’ll keep you guys posted!