On Feb. 28 and 29, nine New College students presented research papers at the 60th annual Florida Conference of Historians (FCH), hosted this year at Florida Gateway College (FGC) in Lake City, Fla. Organized by this year’s president, Sean McMahon, the FCH provides undergraduates, graduates and professionals with the opportunity to share their studies and develop a sense of collegiality among other historians.
The Novos who attended this year’s conference are thesis student Margie Freeman, third-year Sarah Lane, thesis student Emily Lovett, thesis student Rose Mack, thesis student Lindsey McElroy, third-year Caroline Newberg, thesis student Diana Proenza, thesis student Emma Claire Todd, and third-year Anna Lynn Winfrey.
Each student’s paper covered a specific topic of their choice, ranging from 20th Century Women’s Studies to Representations and Responses in the Middle Ages. This year’s conference also includes a few undergraduate research panels made up entirely of New College students. One titled “The Legacies of Segregation: The Not-So-Sunny History of Sunshine State Cities,” featured papers by McElroy, Newberg and Winfrey. Another, “Studies in Music,” showcased Mack’s paper, “‘Please Hello,’ West is Back: History and Pastiche in the Song ‘Please Hello’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures.”
In order to present at the FCH, students must submit a proposal and provide copies of their paper to the chairs and discussants of the panel for which they presented. Each presentation lasted 15 to 20 minutes, with two to three presentations for each panel. Presenters also had the chance to have their papers submitted to the FCH Annals to be published and redistributed at the next conference. All papers written by undergraduate students that were accepted for publication have the potential to win the J. Calvitt Clarke III award, granted to the best undergraduate paper presented at the annual meeting. Kana Hummel (‘12) is the most recent New College student to earn this award in the 2016 FCH.
New College has a history of breaking new ground when it comes to the FCH. Last year’s conference featured 20 New College student presenters from New College–the most participants any institution has ever had–and the co-presidency of two New College Professors of History David Harvey and Brendan Goff.
New College’s involvement can be traced back to 2008, when Harvey first attended. Not many professional history conferences welcome undergraduates as presenters, but FCH is unique for having panels dedicated specifically to undergraduate research. Harvey saw this as an opportunity for New College students to showcase their work to a broader audience. He organized a panel for thesis students during the 2009 conference at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers. This initial conference was a success, but New College participation dwindled in the following years.
After opening the opportunity to any student who had written a paper for an upper-level history class in 2012 and making efforts to advertise to students alongside Goff, a “momentum of student interest” took hold.
“After a while it sort of became self-sustaining because students that went to the conference had a good experience and they told other students, and some of them applied to go a second time,” Harvey said. “It’s great that they’re so self-motivated and are putting stuff together on their own.”
This boost in participation came just in time for the 2013 FCH which took place on New College’s campus and marked the first year of Harvey’s presidency.
According to him, the locations for each conference are decided years in advance and are supposed to alternate between north and south Florida. The president each year has the responsibility of sorting papers by subject into panels and recruiting faculty to be chairs or commentators on the panels.
For underclassmen, participating in the FCH can be the gateway to sorting out their theses. Lane first heard of the FCH in the spring semester of their second year. The paper they presented this year is titled “Sacrifice and Strength: The Representation of Women in Italian Fascist Visual Propaganda.” After preparing and presenting this paper at the FCH, they aim to continue to explore this topic in their thesis. Lane plans to participate again next year and construct their own panel. They recommend the experience for the opportunity to develop presentation skills and for the low-risk, high-rewards system of applying.
“I was like, ‘This will be fun. This will be something good to put on a resume,’” said Lane. “I knew that a lot of undergraduates got accepted to the FCH, so I thought ‘Why not?’”
Current thesis students also have the opportunity to benefit from the conference. Todd, for example, is a returning participant who presented last year in a panel alongside MargaretAnne “Margie” Freeman. This year’s paper is the first chapter from Todd’s thesis, titled “Nationalist Representations of King Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII in German Drama and Art.”
Todd finds the FCH beneficial as a thesis student for the opportunity to practice public speaking before her baccalaureate exam. She says that presenting in the FCH also appeals to graduate schools because of how uncommon undergraduate participation is at most conferences. More than anything, she stresses that future New College students with interest in the FCH should just go for it.
“It’s a lot of fun but it’s not that much work if you’re just presenting a paper that you wrote for class,” said Todd.
For any future participants, Lane, Todd and Harvey have a few words of wisdom: do not miss out on the unique opportunities the FCH provides undergraduate students.
“It’s a great experience and a chance for students to learn more about the professionalization [and] how academics present their research to a broader community,” Harvey said. “It speaks very well of our program because faculty from other institutions are always impressed by the quality of our student presentations.”
Information for this article was gathered from floridaconferenceofhistorians.org. For more information visit the FCH website.