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Record number of New College students present at Florida Conference of Historians

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From Feb. 22-23, the Florida Conference of Historians (FCH) will be hosted on New College’s campus. Presentations of diverse and compelling historical topics will be available for both the New College and greater Sarasota communities, which means students will be given the opportunity to practice talking about their research in public. This year also marks the largest group of New College students to present at the annual conference.

Additionally, this year’s conference is eager to showcase their keynote speaker, history professor at the University of Chicago, Dr. Kenneth Pomeranz. The title of his talk will be: How Did China Get So Big? Redefining the Realm and Its Subjects, 1750-1900. Pomeranz is a prolific writer and a well-known scholar, specifically for his book The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Moreover, in parallel with New College’s Black History Month (BHM) programming, FCH will host two plenary sessions presented by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)—the first being “Overcoming Our History of Hate,” and the second “Public History, Social Justice: The Making of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.”

The Florida Conference of Historians has been around for more than 50 years. It began as a professional society for history teachers in the community college system and other less selective private college systems in Florida. It grew to include faculty at the research universities, graduate and undergraduate students and some historians from outside of the state.

“We always get a few people from beyond Florida or even from abroad,” New College Professor of History and Co-President of FCH David Harvey told the Catalyst. Harvey is leading the charge in organizing FCH on the New College campus, alongside New College Professor of History Brendan Goff.

Harvey has known about FCH since he began receiving periodical notices from the conference organizers in 2000, the same year he arrived at New College.

“I got involved with FCH for the first time in 2006,” Harvey said. “One of the things I liked about it was that it had an undergraduate research section, which is really unusual among history conferences. I immediately saw the potential for taking New College students and having this be a venue that could show off our program in a good way.”

Over the next few years, he tried to get some students involved and took a few of them to the conference to present their papers.

“Initially I was marketing it towards thesis students,” Harvey said. But he thinks that branding scared too many people away, since many thesis students are not ready to present in the beginning of spring term.

“It was when we opened it up to a broader student population that we started to see a lot more participation,” Harvey explained. “I hosted the conference for the first time in 2013 and then we got even more New College students participating, and that’s when it really gelled.” Since then, New College has taken a sizable number of cohorts to FCH each year.

Over the last few years, the conference has expanded in scope, according to Harvey. He thinks the coordinated efforts of fellow history colleagues in the Florida university system have grown the conference into something that Florida’s historian community can be proud of. Total participation has doubled since 2013, when New College first hosted the conference, according to Harvey.

“When New College hosted the first FCH event, I think we had 30 panels,” Harvey said. “This time we will have 53. This year we have 20 New College students participating, which is not only the most New College has ever sent, but more than any single institution has ever sent. Considering how small a school New College is, it’s really striking and a sign that we are getting the message out—not only among history students, but among many disciplines.”

Harvey sees the event as a place where a student can be comfortable presenting their first conference paper. Whereas the big professional meetings in history are more high-pressure, FCH is more laid-back.

Andrew Kotick (‘09), a Modern European History Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York, told the Catalyst that FCH was filled with positive experiences all around. The first time Kotick presented a paper at FCH—hosted in Lake City—was in his third year. He had worked on it for a class taught by Goff.

“For my thesis year [in 2013, when New College hosted FCH] I presented a chapter of my thesis in a panel with some other graduate students from UCF,” Kotick said. He recalls that he reconnected with one of the students on that panel during their respective graduate education paths in New York and believes that speaks to the quality of the conference.

“I got the impression in 2013 that we were doing good rigorous preparation for academic study of history,” Kotick said. “The scholarly foundations of history are being laid well at New College.”

“By the time our students are in their third or fourth year, they are doing really impressive work,” Harvey said. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase their work and receive feedback from somebody who is not their professor.”

Harvey noted the conference is also an opportunity to learn about what other people are doing. Shane Donglasan (’10), Social Sciences Area of Concentration (AOC), did not present at FCH, but remembers receiving a lot of inspiration from listening to presentations that paralleled her own thesis topic.

“It was a really serendipitous experience because the keynote speaker was Paul Kramer, someone whose book Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States & the Philippines was a central resource for my thesis,” Donglasan said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I get to see this fellow scholar that looks at the same topics that I am looking at too.’” She also attended a panel consisting of students from other institutions that focused on her thesis topic. She said attending FCH was a great opportunity for her.

Third-year Emily Lovett, with a History AOC, is presenting her paper at FCH this year on the perceptions of Matilda of Tuscany in 11th century chronicles.

“To actually be able to share papers we worked really hard on last semester (and continuing as we edit them down to presentation length) is really exciting,” Lovett said in an email interview. “Presenting at a historical conference as an undergraduate student is not very common, and I’m just so grateful for the amazing history professors encouraging students to submit papers and participate in the conference.”

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