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Monmouth students present history research at mini-conference

Barry McNamara

From invasions by Julius Caesar and Vikings, all the way up to the 21st century, Monmouth College students spent part of a recent exam day sharing British and Irish history – with a few breaks for tea built into the five-hour “mini-conference.”

Students in Assistant Professor Christine Myers’ HIST 330 course, “Islands & Nations: Research in British and Irish History,” presented their papers while “trying to emulate a British conference format – complete with British spellings.” Even the tea breaks involved British treats, some of which were homemade.

“The students covered from 55 B.C.E. to the present – which is a huge swath of time – and lots of different topics,” Myers said. “I’m always impressed with the work done by our research students in the history department. They usually start the semester with a good deal of trepidation about finding a topic and locating enough evidence to make an original argument. By the end of the semester they are all so excited to tell their friends and faculty what they’ve learned. The group I had in HIST 330 this fall was no exception.”

The day’s first panel examined “How the Irish Affected Civilisation,” with Daniel Hintzke ’18 of Colona, Ill., making the point that Irish missionary Columbanus (543-615) helped take penance from a public event, which resulted in the loss of privileges such as holding office or serving in the military, to a personal matter, with private confession that could be shared with a priest – and even shared with abbesses in the church.

Through the influence of Columbanus and the scores of monasteries that arose in the sixth century, “modern confession was created,” Hintzke said.

That panel’s other presenter, Dayton Stanford ’17 of Illinois City, Ill., researched “Music and the Easter Rising,” taking a look at works created in conjunction with Ireland’s attempt to gain Home Rule around the time of World War I. He played part of the song “The Foggy Dew,” sung by the contemporary band The Wolfe Tones, and discussed other songs, such “A Nation Once Again” and “No Irish Need Apply.”

Stanford shared the quotation, “People use music to give meaning to themselves and their world.”

The next panel reflected on invasions of England, with classics, Latin and history triple major Emma Vanderpool ’17 of Frankfort, Ill., retracing Caesar’s steps in Britain between 58-49 B.C.E. Caesar’s side wrote the first accounts of those invasions, but, more than a thousand years later, Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth detailed the other’s side story in his famous work, The History of The Kings of Britain – even “changing the outcome,” Vanderpool said.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work, though largely discredited today, “was an embryonic form of nationalism,” Vanderpool said. “It created a national space.”

Justin Boston ’18 of Rochelle, Ill., discussed Viking attacks on England, but pointed out there were more positives than imagined. For example, the Vikings brought with them superior shipbuilding methods and desired products – such as furs, wood and dried fish – when they invaded.

He reported that the first invasion came on June 5, 793. By 860, the Vikings began to have the clear intent of conquest.

“After we get over the whole ‘let me take over your land’ part, you can see the effect that the Vikings had on England’s economy,” Boston said. “They were amazing traders.”

Other panels examined witchcraft and reformation, literature, and “New Voices in Old Conversations on British History,” which concluded the conference. The final presentation was “The Difficulty of Serving British Identity on a Platter.”

“Several of the students have expressed an interest in continuing their research next semester, and hopefully many will do so,” Myers said. “Now that they know what they are capable of, it will be rewarding for me to see them continue to challenge themselves in the future.”