When Dr. James Denham started his higher education at FSU, he was not planning to pursue a graduate degree in History. He went on to graduate from FSU in 1988 after receiving his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D in History. Now a professor and director of the Lawton M. Chiles Jr. Center for Florida History at Florida Southern College, Denham considers his time at FSU foundational for sparking his interest in history and for preparing him for his career as a professor and a researcher. He is a historian of Florida and the South, with an emphasis on issues of law and criminal history. FSU allowed him to dive into his research and find his passion for the discipline. Recently, Dr. Denham spoke with Marina Ortiz, a member of FSU History’s social media team, to reflect upon his time as a FSU student and share his experience teaching at a small liberal arts school.
Want to teach English abroad? We asked Russell Rivers, a senior in History, how he got selected to teach English in Korea. Russell will graduate this fall semester and is going to Korea in 2021.
Congratulations. What got you interested in living and working in Korea?
Who would not want to work on superheroes? To look at their lives and exploits in a world of fast-paced adventures and moral absolutes. This is what Spencer Molenaar has decided to work on in his Honors in the Major project (HITM) for History. He is taking the films Ironman and Ironman 2 as “texts of the moment,” and is investigating both how the films reflected on but also were received by American society in the first decade of the 2000s.
Christina Portuallo was introduced to the Lowell Correctional Institution and its questionable history in Dr. McTighe’s undergraduate class on mass incarceration. This marked the beginning of her long journey of research on the history of women’s prisons in the United States. Working closely alongside Dr. Renfro, Christina set out to gain a better understanding of the daily lives and conditions of the women housed at the Lowell Correctional Institution, raising questions about “…instances of mistreatment that have occurred throughout [the facility’s] history that have been forgotten or buried,” as well as the unique challenges presented to incarcerated women of color and queer women. In recent years, the Lowell Correctional Institution has come under fire from a number of news networks for abuse and administrative misconduct, and through the research for her Honors in the Major project (HITM), Christina aims to “shed light” on the facility’s deplorable conditions and “bring awareness to the historical roots of those abuses,” showing how they have evolved over time.
We’ve all missed out on something due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. A family vacation, a summer job, but what about the chance to study at Harvard over the summer? Jake was supposed to spend a couple weeks this past Summer poring over the archives of the Harvard Business School to do research for his History Honors in the Major (HITM) project. His thesis originally investigated how WWII helped small businesses such as Polaroid and Lehman Brothers become economic powerhouses. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak however, Harvard shut down and Jake had to shift his topic. Much of the research he was planning to do was with documents that had not yet been digitized, making it impossible to do the research from afar. However, his new topic is similarly interesting and pertains to his area of academic focus
It is with much fondness that I remember our departed colleague Ed Wynot. I first met Ed when he was on the search committee that hired me in 1995. From the very start of my time at FSU he was a welcoming and friendly presence. Given the closeness of our fields, we shared many of the same students. I quickly discovered that he was a popular and very good teacher. Ed loved the classroom, and he spread that enthusiasm to his students. Whenever I passed him in the hall on his way to teach his large World History section, he would tell me with a humorous gleam in his eyes that he was “off to harangue the masses.” Many of those “harangued” students would later take his upper-level East European History class just to have another class with him. Even years later when I encounter Ed’s former students, they always reflect on what a great lecturer and teacher he was for them. Sometimes Ed surprised me by leaving an article related to my work in my mailbox. It was like a secret research pixie had left me a present. I am saddened by his passing, but I always smile when I remember Ed Wynot as my friend and colleague.
A tribute by Dr. Jonathan Grant
I joined the Peace Corps back in 2018. I departed for Nepal in January 2019 with the intention of spending 27 months teaching English in a little village named Aruchaur in the midwestern part of the country. It was a bit of a shock adjusting to a life without Wi-Fi, washing machines, or hot water, but I was doing reasonably well until the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the entire Peace Corps was suspended globally, and I was sent home in March 2020. I often catch myself asking what the chances were that a once-in-a-century global pandemic would strike right in the middle of my service abroad, but what can you do.
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.