History Graduate Student Association: An Interview with Rhiannon Turgel-Ethier and Dragana Zivkovic

Thu, 03/16/23
Rhiannon Turgel-Ethier and Dragana Zivkovic

The HGSA was founded in 1997 and has been a part of graduate student life in the History Department ever since. Here we speak with Rhiannon Turgel-Ethier, the current president, and Dragana Zikovic, the communications officer, about their dissertation research and their involvement with the HGSA.

Tell us about your work.

RTE: My dissertation research centers on the Cherokee men and women who initiated the Georgia gold rush in 1828 and then continued to play central roles in the more famous gold rushes in northern California in 1849 and at Pikes Peak, Colorado in 1858. I seek to place individual Cherokee gold rushers into the major themes of U.S. and Cherokee history, and to tell the Cherokee history of the Georgia, California, and Colorado gold rushes by privileging Indigenous voices and centering their experiences. Indigenous history has been a central part of modern gold rush history. Especially in the scholarship of the California gold rush, historians have placed Indigenous Californians as the victims of dispossession, violence, and even genocide. The study of Cherokee gold miners complicates this history, as rather than being at the mercy of gold-hungry settlers, Cherokees operate as both the settlers of the west and the colonized in the east. Thus, I hope to find out whether or not any of these Cherokee miners succeeded in their quest to contribute to their household economies and to bring back much-needed capital into the larger Cherokee economy.

DZ: I study gender in early modern Europe. My area of research focuses on 18th-century Southeastern Europe. I look at women and the spaces that they occupy, and more recently I have started to explore clothing and trade within spaces of cross-cultural exchange.

How did you get interested in history?

RTE: My interest in history began at a young age. I used to go to my grandparents’ house every weekend and they would always let me look through their old family albums, immigration documents and family trees. I could spend hours listening to them tell me stories about our family history.

DZ: My interest in history started at a young age since my dad loves history and would often talk to me about the things I was learning in school. What drew me to history was my own personal background and wanting to understand how history has played a role in current events.

What do you do for “fun” history nowadays? 

RTE: Although not always 100% accurate, I love watching period piece movies, television shows, and history documentaries. 

DZ: While I try to stay away from constantly thinking or talking about history, for “fun” history I play a game called Chronology that is basically like a timeline where you try to put your cards in the correct order based on the person or event that you have. I also like to watch historical documentaries on historical events and read books inspired by historical events.

What do you do as an HGSA officer?

RTE: As HGSA president my main task is to supervise the organization’s activities. More specifically, I preside over our monthly meetings and act as a liaison between graduate students and History department faculty.

DZ: I am the communications officer, and I am mainly in charge of the social media and email to keep our members and faculty/ staff updated on HGSA events.

How do you see HGSA make a difference to graduate student life?

RTE: The HGSA is an organization that provides History graduate students with a real sense of community. Through social and professional development events, we provide a space for graduate students to network, collaborate, and fine tune our professional skills. The HGSA also advocates for our members at the department and university level.

DZ: The HGSA is really important when it comes to the social life of our grad students, but also when it comes to being their voice within the department. We host a variety of events that students can attend throughout the year in order to create a comfortable environment amongst the students. We also keep them up-to-date on things that are going on in the department and give them a space where they can share their thoughts.