An Interview with Noah Cole, secretary, History Graduate Student Association

Thu, 03/21/24
Noah Cole

Tell me a bit about yourself!

My dad is a history buff, and my family is a family of readers. I grew up reading and watching everything to do with World War II. My other passion as a kid was music. Later, I added an interest in politics and philosophy to that mix. At community college, I took History classes that focused on gender history, on philosophy, and on the Enlightenment. All were topics or themes that I had never encountered in high school, and that expanded my understanding of what history is.

When I transferred to FSU, I knew I wanted to study history. I got into medieval history by accident. I signed up for Dr. Palmer’s class [which one?] because it fit my schedule – but I knew nothing about that period. I really wanted to take Dr. Doel’s class on the cold war space race which aligned much better with my World War II passion. When I thought about going to graduate school, I talked with Dr. Doel, and he suggested I find a professor in the department who needed help with their research so I could see what doing academic history was like. I ended up helping one of the department’s Ph.D. students cataloguing their primary sources, and I also got drawn into the Middle Ages.

What is your dissertation topic?

I study ideologies of factionalism in northern Italy in the 15th-century. I focus on two types of people, preachers and humanists. Both groups are addressing a very similar audience with their calls for moral and political reform to become better humans. These two groups have different ideas about how to reform, but they are equally committed to reform. Eventually, the division between the two types of people became less clear cut. I am hoping to go to Bologna, Italy, for my fieldwork soon.

What minor fields did you choose?

Reformation is one of my minor fields. I chose it to help me situate my own research. I looked at the development of Protestant ideas and political conflict, refugees, migration.

Early native America is a teaching field for me. I wanted to study native American history to be able to include it when teaching early American history courses. Additionally, I think that the medieval period in history extends for longer than we think, and that a lot of the early settlements in the Americas are fundamentally a medieval enterprise. Think of conquistadors as medieval knights.

My last field, also a teaching field, is world history. Understanding the theories and approaches to world history is helping me place my work in a broader context.

What is your position within the History Graduate Student Association?

I am the secretary. I organize meetings, take the notes, create action items, and am also involved with the annual conference that we organize. Before taking a position at the HGSA, I was involved in the Graduate Assistant Union for two years. When I joined the graduate program, I responded to one of GAU’s emails for help and very quickly became involved. Union involvement is a family thing. My great grandfather was the president of the United Auto Workers in Iowa in the 1980s.

I was the vice-president for membership of GAU for a couple of years. Part of that job involved giving updates to departmental reps. Getting involved with the HGSA seemed like a good next step. I already had experience working on an executive committee and communicating policy to a wide variety of audiences.

My work with GAU taught me the importance of tight organization and clear communication. As the HGSA secretary, it is my job to follow up on the implementation of action items and make sure that we adhere to the timeframe we had agreed on.

What is HGSA’s role for the grad students? Why is having HGSA important for grad students?

I see it as a sister organization to GAU. GAU can only help with things to do with money as it is a labor organization for graduate students as employees. But graduate students are also scholars, they take classes and are mentored by their major professors. So, they have a more complex relationship with FSU than others, employees, or students, might have.

HGSA can step in and help with academic and social relations within the department. It is a friendly organization that advocates for the students within the department and can bring to the faculty’s attention issues that graduate students find concerning. If the HGSA debates an issue with the graduate director that is a much less threatening move than when GAU decided to get involved.

HGSA provides an avenue for conflict resolution, and it is a storehouse of departmental knowledge. It is also a site for professional development. Those who get involved learn to organize and hold meetings and conferences, and how to work and communicate with a variety of people.

What do you do for fun history?

I am translating this text I found, that has nothing to do with my research. It is a discussion between Religion and the World which is presided over by the pope. Both Religion and World argue over who is better.  It is a 13th-century text which I found inside a series of sermons by St. Bernardino. This has been my fun hobby.

Additionally, I like reading old sci-fi books, and I post medieval fun facts on Facebook for my friends. Most of my friends are musicians, who have no training in academic history. I like to share weird facts with them.