An Interview with Monique Hyman, president, History Graduate Student Association

Wed, 02/28/24
Monique Hyman

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I was an English major in undergrad. But what I enjoyed most in college was being on the Policy Debate team. I loved reading up on a topic, and then presenting my arguments. This exposed me to many thinkers and their ideas, like Derrida and Foucault, and it made me feel part of the academic community. I won a national debate championship (which one?), and I worked in Rwanda helping with their debating teams.

I had majored in English to become a lawyer, and I worked as a paralegal for a while, but after my experience with debate, I decided to become an academic instead. Being part of Policy Debate changed the direction of my professional life.

I decided to do an MA in History, because that was the aspect of English I had enjoyed most – the context in which the books were written. I was more interested in why ideas were circulating at certain times than analyzing the stories themselves. I saw my master’s degree as a steppingstone toward the Ph.D.

What topic are you working on for your Ph.D. dissertation?

I am working on American history from the 1960s to the 1990s. For my master’s thesis, I looked at U.S. history textbooks adopted by Texas from 1965 to 1980. I focused on how Mexican Americans and African Americans were represented in these textbooks, and how the narrative changed from the end of the civil rights movement to the conservative backlash of the 1980s.

I see school history textbooks as falling in the domain of public history, as they are one of the means in which the public is introduced to history. It is not through academic monographs that most Americans learn the stories of their country, but through their school textbook from which their teacher draws.

Texas has a centralized adoption process for school textbooks. Every three years, school districts choose from a selection of history textbooks. And given that it is a very big market, textbook publishing companies are concerned to follow the narrative that will make them competitive in a state like Texas. But the textbooks will also be adopted by other states.

For my Ph.D. dissertation, I will expand my topic and review the debates about history in school textbooks in both Florida and Texas from the early 1960s to 2000. So far, it has been relatively easy to purchase old history schoolbooks. Looking at these books from the 1960s, I see the doodles that students left, which makes it a fun read. Groovy, man.

What are your minor fields?

Middle East, U.S. history before 1877, and public history. The history of the Middle East is a passion of mine, I am interested in the ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of the region. The history of the U.S. before 1877 complements my work on modern American history and is a mandatory field for modern American history grad students. And I am really interested in taking history to the wider public through documentaries. So, public history seemed a great fit.

You are the current president of the HGSA. What do you do in that role?

The main roles of the HGSA are to be a liaison between graduate students and faculty, to provide a community for the graduate students, and to advance grad student professionalization. As president, I set the tone of what we will be doing during the year. I suggest events we should hold, like Diversity Day, which we have done now twice to great success. I influence how often we meet and what we do, like tabling at Market Wednesday. I help liaise between the different officers and foster communication.

Do you have any previous experience with a student organization?  

Yes, I was a member of student government in high school, and as an MA student, I was also a member of the History Club. But this is my first time in a leadership position.

What can graduate students gain from being a member of the HGSA?

I think the most important role for the grad student association is to be a community for its members. Graduate school can be very isolating, the HGSA provides ways of meeting other graduate students. We host social events to allow our members to meet and talk.

We also organize an annual graduate student conference, and members can gain experience in planning and organizing such an academic event: identifying and inviting the keynote speaker, liaising with other academic departments, creating the conference program, organizing vendors, planning lunch. We will have a place for graduate students to get professional head shots, and there will be a best paper presented contest. Members can learn a lot of skills through participating in the conference; you are part of a project that is bigger than yourself.