#seniorseminar: Jillian Diaz & “Famine amid Total War in Greater Syria and Lebanon”

Fri, 01/19/24
Jillian Diaz

I was born and raised in Miami in a family of history lovers. I have always appreciated history because my mother is a history teacher and has always emphasized history. Everywhere we go when we travel, it is always a history lesson. When I am traveling without her, I feel as though I am not learning as much as when she is with me explaining things.

I am a pre-law student, and I chose History as my major because I love reading about the past. My secondary major is International Affairs because it consists of reading and history as well.

Why did you choose this particular senior seminar?

I had already taken ‘Modern Middle East’ with Dr. Ozok Gundogan, and I loved her as a teacher. She was so understanding and supportive. I felt that I could ask her about anything. I wanted to take my senior seminar with someone I felt comfortable asking for help and guidance – so I chose Dr. O’s seminar on “World War I and the Middle East.” I was taking a second class with her during the same semester, so I saw Dr. O multiple times a day. Her personal anecdotes made every topic memorable and impactful. She brought a history I never knew before alive to me.

What was your senior seminar paper about?

My project was about “Famine amid Total War in Greater Syria and Lebanon.” Already before the outbreak of World War I, after its engagement in the Balkan Wars in 1912/13, the Ottoman Empire was in a weakened state. When the Ottoman Empire entered the war, it had to extract many resources from its people to fight and keep fighting. The empire was less concerned with the needs of its subjects. The people in parts of the empire were starving, but the government put the emphasis on supporting its military. I am looking at famine and its consequences, social, economic, and political.

How did you decide on this topic?

Going into the class, I did not know what I wanted to work on. I was a bit intimidated because I had only taken one class on the Middle East before. However, Dr. O presented us with a lot of options for projects during the first few class meetings, and when I saw this topic, I knew immediately that I was interested in researching further.

What sources did you use for your project?

I used newspaper articles, photos, and various works of literature, especially short stories, and poems. Some articles Dr. O brought to the class herself, for example Najwa al-Qattan’s “When Mothers Ate Their Children.” I used the prose sources to help me understand the social effects of the famine, and the newspaper sources let me see the political effects.

I found most of the material on or through the FSU library database. We met in the library for one of our class sessions, and that helped me see what sources I had access to and how to find them. I only used digital sources for my paper.

It was not that hard to find sources for my paper, however it was challenging to find good sources and group them together.

How did you go about writing such a long paper?

Dr. O had set up all these milestones throughout the semester which simplified the writing process.

First, we did an annotated bibliography. Honestly, in the beginning I thought that this was very tedious and time consuming. But it forced me to review the sources I had already found, while looking for more, and it was an important milestone which saved me a lot of time while drafting my final paper.

Then I did an outline for the whole paper. That helped me stay on track with my argument.

Afterward, we had to submit our exact research question. That narrowed down the topic and helped me with managing the sources.

We also had to submit a historiography section. Writing this section allowed me to organize the sources into distinct groups and subtopics. That simplified writing the paper.

Every week in class, Dr. O would tell us how far we should have progressed with our paper – that was a reality check for me! It usually made me realize that I needed to do more work for the paper. I worked on my paper every other day, usually three to four times a week.

If allowed, I can be a last-minute person – thus having various parts of the paper due throughout the semester helped me to not procrastinate.

What was the biggest surprise?

That I had gathered more material than I needed. At first, I was focused on amassing as many sources as possible. I tried to collect as much as I could. But then as I started writing the paper, I realized very quickly that I had way too much information, and that I could easily write more than twenty pages.

Writing the paper was a fun challenge. It was not as stressful as I had thought it would be. At the end, I was proud that I had written such a long paper, and that I knew I had done well.

Did presenting your work in class help you with writing the paper?

Early in the semester, we had to do a presentation on our primary sources. Later, we presented our whole paper. Both presentations allowed us to give feedback on each other’s papers. That was super helpful, hearing all the different suggestions from my peers.

What advice would you give other students who are about to take their senior seminar?

Take the senior seminar as a challenge – and not a chore. When you look back on it, you will be able to say that you can write a long paper, that you can do hard things, and that you are ready to do even harder things.

Take it with a teacher that you feel will help you with the process, and that you feel comfortable going to ask for help.

Make sure that you enjoy the topic you are working on. In the senior seminar, you yourself get to formulate the question you want to research. This was the first paper that was fun for me to work on, where I wanted to keep looking for more information, and I learned something totally new.

Lastly, don’t wait to the last minute to start the work! Manage your time well. That is the key.

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

If I could go back in time, I think I would work even more on staying on top of things. I did well for myself, but there is always room for improvement. And – I would consult with Dr. O even more. I did see her regularly, but if I could go back, I would go and speak with her even more.