An Interview with Danielle Wirsansky, vice president, History Graduate Student Association

Fri, 03/08/24
Danielle Wirsansky

I got into History because of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at FSU. I always had a love for history and specifically the history of World War 2 and the Holocaust. While in high school, I made a documentary on local Jewish World War II veterans. When I came to FSU, I was part of the first arts cohort to participate in UROP – but there were not many projects available in that area, and we were encouraged to look beyond it. I found the UROP project that Dr. Stoltzfus was offering on the Rosenstrasse Project, I applied, and became his assistant. With his assistance, I began my own research journey. I won an IDEA grant (then called something else), went to Paris to do research, and wrote my very first musical focusing on Holocaust education based on that research. I kept working with Dr. Stoltzfus all through my undergrad. After I graduated, I decided to do what I really love, to write plays that are geared towards educating about history, especially the Holocaust.

That first musical I wrote became my Honors in the Major project. Some of the feedback I received questioned my credentials to write a play on the Holocaust. Even though I had done so much research on that topic and the musical was written according to the Holocaust education mandate. That made me decide to get an MA in History. Initially, I had thought that I would stop there but then I realized that researching and writing is my dream job. I got some teaching experience at Jacksonville University, and then I came back to FSU to get my Ph.D.

What is your major area of study? What are your minor fields?

My major area is modern European history. My minor fields are in public history, gender and sexuality, and war and society. I chose all these topics to complement my research. I tried to pick what I was most passionate about, because then I knew I would stay motivated in my studies.

My dissertation research grew organically out of my previous research projects. I am working on a gendered analysis of the experience of women spies of the F Section of the SOE during World War II. I am looking to see how gender affected being a spy throughout all stages of their professional lives, from recruitment to retirement or death.

What do you do as an HGSA officer?

This year, I am the vice president. That is a new role for me as during the two years in the master’s program I was the communications officer.  It is good to experience the HGSA in a different position. And being vice president means that I am in charge of organizing the annual graduate student conference.

I have been on the conference planning committee every single year that I have been in grad school; this will be my fifth year. I felt confident about being able to take the lead on this, and I am excited that with regards to the HGSA, this is my major focus throughout this year. We have a keynote speaker, we have the rooms reserved, I am working on the conference schedule right now. For the first time, we will be having a banquet.

How do you see the HGSA making a difference to the graduate students? 

What strikes me is how different the HGSA feels during different administrations, how its role and its functions change. This year, because the department was hiring two positions, and the HGSA had a representative on each committee, I feel we are more connected to the department.

I also think that the aftershocks of the pandemic are lessening, and the HGSA is organizing more social events to help students from different cohorts and different fields of study to connect and reconnect.

What would you tell an incoming graduate student about joining the HGSA?

Being part of the HGSA helps you get to know other people in the department. Especially, if you have moved to Tallahassee from somewhere else and have no local friends. The HGSA is a really good place to start making connections, socially and academically. The organization will also keep you updated with what is going on in the department. And if you have a question, you can talk to any member or officer, and they will share their experiences with you. The HGSA is a great resource!

What sort of history do you do for fun?

My great love is collecting historical costumes. I love learning about trends in clothing and seeing the changes taking place over time. It is magical touching a dress from decades ago, looking at the design details and how it is made. And I love when people get to wear the costumes. That is my favorite way to engage with history.