Honors in the Major: From Idea to Thesis

The idea behind Elias Larralde’s Honors in the Major thesis was already germinating in his mind before he started at FSU. The topic, the mapping of an Afro-Cuban religious song using geographic information systems, would eventually serve as the basis for his research topic. However, it was not until Fall 2018, when Larralde took his first course with Dr. Robinson A. Herrera, that he was encouraged to turn his ideas into an Honors project.

Honors in the Major (HITM) provides Florida State students with the opportunity to complete a research thesis or creative project under the direction of a faculty committee chosen by the student. The process, which typically spans two to three semesters, involves selecting a topic, creating a prospectus, producing a thesis based on conducted research, and successfully defending it orally before the student’s committee.

I graduated from FSU back in 2018 after studying early twentieth-century immigration policy under Dr. Koslow. In the fall semester of 2019, I received a tenure-track position at LaGrange College. Between graduation and going up to LaGrange, I was able to hone my teaching skills at FSU as a visiting assistant professor.

LaGrange is a liberal arts college in Georgia located about an hour southwest of Atlanta. In many ways this position makes me feel like I am returning to my roots, as I earned my BA degree from a school very similar to LaGrange. When I encourage my students to submit their research papers to conferences or when I help organize Phi Alpha Theta events, my mind flashes back to professors who did the same sorts of things for me. As for LaGrange itself, there are many aspects of the college that I love: the student body is diverse, the campus is idyllic, and my colleagues are warm and creative people. 

I can’t say when my passion for history began or from where it sprang.  It predates even the vague memories of my early childhood.  When I’m able to conjure them up now the memories come like happy and strange mirages, perhaps dotted with funny musings from my parents.  My mom laughs when she recalls that one year, I think I was in third grade, they said that I and my two sisters could each pick a vacation destination for the family.  My sisters, much more intelligent than I, picked Disneyworld while I chose Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Mount Vernon.  For some reason I won that year.  I remember the demonstrations in colonial garb in the shops of the blacksmith and the glassblower, the butter churn, the printing press, the militia in formation marching out to the drum and fife, loading and firing muskets on the green in front of the Virginia Capitol Building.  I recall returning home with a tricorne hat, a militiaman’s jacket, and toy pistols and a musket; and later in our backyard in the summer or down in the basement during winter, I’d reenact by myself--me a minuteman--The Shot Heard Round the World at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, or “Don’t fire ‘til you see the whites of their eyes” at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  I had a children’s book with that title.  My friends must have thought I was mad. 

The Florida State University Department of History is honored to announce a memorial service for beloved colleague, teacher, and scholar James P. Jones on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 at 5 p.m. Join the department, friends, colleagues, former students, and more in remembering and celebrating one of the university’s most legendary figures. Jim was a joyous and integral part of Florida State for more than 57 years, and we welcome those whose lives he touched to join us for this event.

Join the Florida State University Department of History Thursday, October 15th at 3 p.m as Kathryn Olivarius, assistant professor of history at Stanford University, delivers the 2020 James P. Jones Distinguished Lecture in American History. Olivarius will present, “Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom,” a look at the intersections of slavery and science in the pre-war American South.

The James P. Jones Distinguished Lecture in American History is an annual event that connects a prominent scholar of U.S. history with FSU audiences and honors the memory of Jim Jones, beloved teacher and scholar in the Department of History who served the university for 57 years.

Diversity, inclusion, and the history of these topics have come to the fore over the past few months as the United States has taken a hard look at its racial history. Over the summer, Dr. Laurie Wood joined Alice Fabela in a Zoom interview to discuss how these topics pertain to Dr. Wood’s scholarly work. Dr. Wood received her PhD in History from University of Texas at Austin. She began teaching in the FSU history department in 2014 and is currently an Associate Professor.

This past spring, it hit me – I finished my dissertation 10 years ago. Wow, it is still a bit of a shock to think about it. Where has all the time gone?

Well, the first year out, I was a visiting assistant professor at Ohio University. Athens, Ohio is a quintessential small town with a big college, and I had a wonderful first professional year there. Until I got that job, I never knew how many family friends had a connection to OU, and since my time there, I have learned that several of my current colleagues also have ties to OU.

Those current colleagues are at Penn State Behrend, which is in Erie, Pennsylvania. I am a tenured associate professor, and I am currently the department chair as well as an assistant director of the honors programs. Being part of Penn State is great because of the access to all of the resources of a large university, but working at a smaller four-year campus is advantageous because I get the opportunity to know my students, both majors and non-majors, really well. Also, as the only faculty member who teaches modern European history, I can teach virtually any class I want.

I’m currently a product manager for the plastic packaging division of Jabil, Inc., one of the largest electronics manufacturing services companies in the world. A lot happened between graduating and now, so bear with me. I tell this to a lot of students, recent grads and colleagues who find themselves second-guessing, and even hating what they’re doing and feel like they’re pigeon-holed.

In the first part of this series of posts, we asked some of FSU History’s graduate students what it was like to participate in a remote conference. In this second piece, we turn to Ben Goff, who organized the History Graduate Student Association’s spring 2020 conference, to find out what it was like to organize such an online event. Ben, who was vice president of HGSA, had been immersed in organizing the conference since September 2019. It was set to take place on April 3, 2020 on FSU’s main campus in Tallahassee.

Three weeks before the event was scheduled to happen, COVID 19 forced FSU to transition to remote instruction to protect the health of its students, faculty, and staff. Dena Sutphin [DS] asked Ben [BG] how he handled the transition.

DS: What kind of challenges did you face in the process?

With 'remote' conferences being the new norm, we felt it was important for students to share their experiences with presenting virtually. We asked several FSU History’s graduate students to talk about the new ‘conference-from-home’ format. Some students had participated in the FSU History Graduate Student Association-run conference in early April, others in an international conference in New Zealand in July. For almost all, these were their first virtual conferences. As could be expected, the new format had both pros and cons.