Barry McNamara  |   Published April 14, 2015

Making history

MC’s history department is on the move, with new honors, prizes, papers
The adoption of a revolutionary new curriculum is just one of many recent accolades for Monmouth College’s distinguished history department.
           
In addition to its groundbreaking “History from the Documents Up” curriculum, the department is making news for its active faculty members and for new departmental awards.
           
Department chair Stacy Cordery, already the bibliographer of the National First Ladies Library, was recently elected treasurer of the Society for Historians of the Golden Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE). It’s a fitting honor for Cordery, author of an acclaimed biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who has been with SHGAPE since its beginnings.
 
“When I was a graduate student, I got word the group was forming,” said Cordery, who was at the University of Texas at the time. “So I was part of the first meeting they ever had.”
 
She continued, “I’m grateful to be serving this way for a national organization. It’s a way to give something back.”
 
One of Cordery’s colleagues, assistant professor Christine Myers, has been on the road recently, taking four students to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference in New Orleans earlier this month. The students completed their research papers in Myers’ “World’s Fairs” course. Students who presented were Kaitlyn Cleaver of Pekin, Rebecca Eaton of Gladstone, Tim Morris of Olive Branch, Miss., and Madeline Poole of Monmouth.
 
Myers presented a paper herself at the 17th Annual History Across the Disciplines Conference at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
 
Titled “A Marriage of Inconvenience? Imagery & Rhetoric in the Scottish Independence Referendum Campaign,” Myers’ paper considered the use of marriage metaphors by politicians and the public in discussing the union between England and Scotland from the early 18th century through the independence vote last September.
 
Cordery said Myers’ work is an excellent example of the type of “contemporary source” research to which Monmouth students are being exposed.
 
“The work that Professor Myers is doing on this topic is unique – she’s the only person working on this,” said Cordery. “For the class she taught on the referendum last fall, she and her students built a Facebook page, and it is now a wonderful archive of all the referendum stories.”
 
When new topics like this arise, Cordery said the history department’s new curriculum can accommodate them.
 
“We’re that nimble now,” she said. “We can study these types of subjects.”
 
Associate professor Amy de Farias will lead the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Jordan program this fall, while associate professor Fred Witzig has an article published in the new online journal, Studies in Midwestern History. Titled “The Perils and Promise of Midwestern Studies,” Witzig’s article reflects on the ongoing eight-year history of the college’s Midwest Matters initiative.
 
A fifth member of the department, Bill Urban, is completing his 49th year on Monmouth’s faculty. Part of the storied history of distinguished faculty members at Monmouth, Urban is also one of three professors honored by an anonymous donor, whose gift has created three additional prizes within the department to be awarded at the college’s annual Honors Convocation, joining the F. Garvin Davenport History Prize, which is annually awarded to the top senior history major.
 
The William L. Urban History Prize will reward student writing, acknowledging Urban’s own prolific writing, which includes nearly two dozen books on subjects such as Eastern European history and the history of warfare. This prize is intended to go to the student who writes the top research paper in a 300-level history research course in the previous calendar year. 
 
The Douglas R. Spitz, Sr. History Prize, named for the late Monmouth professor who taught from 1957 to 1996, will be awarded to an “activist-scholar.”
 
“It puts a name to what we already do,” said Cordery of the department’s emphasis on public history, which is for students who “love history, but don’t want to teach it.” Public historians work in such places as government, museums and private corporations.
 
The late Mary Crow, who taught at her alma mater from 1946 to 1985, was an inveterate traveler who “always brought back an abundance of photographs from her travels,” said Cordery. The Mary S. Bartling Crow ’41 History Prize will go to a student planning to study off-campus for at least one semester the following academic year.
 
“Because Mary was enthusiastic about travel’s ability to enhance learning, this prize will be a way for a student to get the most out of their time overseas by being better able to afford admission to museums or historic sites, tickets to plays or other cultural events,” noted Cordery.
 
The history department’s new curriculum, adopted during the college’s switch to a 4-4 academic calendar in 2012, turns the tables on how history has been traditionally taught. Instead of first-year students taking survey courses, they are immediately immersed in the study of historical documents and dramatic historical incidents, such as the Great Chicago Fire and the Waco, Texas, siege.
 
Survey courses are reserved for upperclassmen, who often appreciate the opportunity to refresh their broad knowledge of history prior to taking graduate exams. 
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