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When I graduated from Florida State University in the Spring of 2010, I had a plan: I was going to use my degree in British History to get a full-time job teaching and researching in my field of expertise. The first step along that path was the adjunct job I had lined up for the summer: teaching “EUH 3530 England, the Empire, and the Commonwealth” at FSU. But, of course, life rarely ever follows the path we imagine it will. Little did I know that teaching the course on British history was the last time I would use my field of expertise as a significant part of my career. I have used the skills, tools, and knowledge gained as a part of my educational experience in every facet of my career since, just not in the ways I assumed I would.

Right now, I work as a Customer Support Training Manager for Promethean, an educational technology company that creates front of classroom devices. The path that I took to get to this point was circuitous. Let me explain how I got there. It all began when I got my BA from the George Washington University as a double major in History and Political Science in 2002. I had a degree, but I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I worked in retail as an assistant manager, and after a busy Christmas season that year, realized that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. I also realized that I wanted to go to graduate school. After being accepted to FSU, I began my graduate career in British History under the direction of one of the newest professors in the department, Dr. Charles Upchurch, in August 2003.

Recently, two FSU History graduate students, Emily Lu (EL) and Danielle Wirsansky (DW), worked together to put on a play during FSU’s School of Theatre’s Spring Fringe Festival. FSU History sat down with both to talk about their project.

Emily, how did you come up with the idea for this theater play?

EL: I wrote the script as a final project for a Japanese literature class that I took with Dr. Matt Mewhinney in Modern Languages. Because I have a BFA in Dramatic Writing, I decided to do something with my talent. I was inspired by the Japanese writers that we looked at in class.

Three of them stood out to me: Natsume Sōseki, Masaoka Shiki, Yosano Akiko, and I wanted to engage them in a dialogue. They all knew of each other in real life. They are Meiji period, late nineteenth-century, writers. When reading their work, I felt that there was a chemistry between them. Natsume Sōseki is seen as the father of modern Japanese literature. The title of my play is a play on words with one of his famous stories, Kokoro. It translates to ‘Heart.’ My play is called Kokonron 古今論 (A dialogue between the past and present).

It was when Danielle told me that her production company, White Mouse Productions (WMP), was collaborating with the FSU School of Theater this year for the Fringe Festival on campus and asked if I wanted to have my play performed, that we started working together.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am in my third year of my PhD and my 4th year at FSU overall (I completed my masters here beforehand). I have been drawn to history since I was a kid. My parents prioritized taking me to museums, and I developed a love for French history and culture; taking European History courses in high school only solidified those interests. I initially intended to research in Paris like many of my colleagues, but after spending a language immersion summer in Montpellier a few years ago, I fell in love with the region and became fascinated with its history, and the lack of anglophone scholarship about it.

What is your project about?

I am looking at the relationship between gender and property in southern France before, during, and after the French Revolution. My dissertation focuses on women who owned, purchased, sold, rented, etc. I am trying to complicate historians' existing views on how women fared at this time; for instance, some would argue that marriage extinguished a woman's agency and power, but my research will demonstrate that this is not always the case. I am finding married women in all socio-economic classes who owned property outright. And not only did they own it, but they fought for it, sued over it, controlled its transmission to future generations, etc. All with zero regard for their husband. There are a lot of other points I want to make, but this is a big one, and it's being driven by a handful of very interesting women who lived in Montpellier and its vicinity.

Cecilia Malley and Annalia Buchanan, FSU first-year students, are helping Dr. Annika Culver with the research for her book on Ms. Masako Hachisuka, the grand-niece of the last shogun of Japan, whose parents were Mrs. Chiye Nagamine and Marquis Hachisuka Masauji. Both are working on the project through FSU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program which enables freshman, sophomore, and transfer students to get hands-on research experience by working with faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral scholars. For Dr. Culver, this is the second UROP project that she is mentoring.

Cecilia is a Vocal Performance major from Tallahassee, while Annalia is a History major from Little Rock, Arkansas. Both have a passion for research and history. Cecilia grew up surrounded by history books, “I read them like novels. I listened to audiobooks on car rides.” As a musically-inclined child, Cecilia liked finding out the historical setting for the pieces she was performing. Annalia was fascinated by history. “I am a very pattern and logic-oriented person, and I wanted to know why people did things, like go to war. I was also museum obsessed as a child. History is my passion, my creative outlet,” said Annalia.

Moving from the west coast to start my career at Florida State filled me with dread. Having never lived in the South I had no inkling of what lay ahead. During my on-campus visit, a whirlwind of meetings, meals and a nervously presented job talk, I got to meet Rodney Anderson. Rod, as he introduced himself, made me feel immediately welcomed. When I moved to Tallahassee, Rod and Marti Trovillion generously opened their home; Rod even lent me his car, a Toyota Tercel station wagon named Samwise Gamgee, if memory serves.

Rod earned his BA from Boston University and his PhD from American University. A gifted historian who published two pathbreaking books, Outcasts in Their Own Lands: Mexican Industrial Workers, 1906-1911 and Guadalajara a la consumación de la independencia: Estudio de su población según los padrones de 1821-1822 as well as prize winning articles in prestigious journals, Rod remained humble about his accomplishments. He would refer to his work in a genuinely self-effacing manner, preferring instead to listen to others discuss their research. He would offer encouraging words, and helpful suggestions for approaching difficult historical questions.

One of the outstanding features at FSU is the opportunity for undergraduate students to do hands-on research. You can do this through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. The program allows students to do directed research, while supporting faculty and graduate students in their academic work. UROP mentors submit their projects to a central database, and interested freshmen and sophomores then choose from among the offerings.

Erik Braeden Lewis, a doctoral candidate in the History department, submitted a UROP project in 2021. Lewis asked students to work with him on creating two history course syllabi, one for early American history and one for world history. For Erik, UROP offered the chance to hone his mentoring skills in a low-stakes environment.

Abby Felde and Trey Woodall opted to work with him. Abby is a first-year student majoring in Viola Performance, while Trey, on the pre-law track, is a History major with a minor in Philosophy. Abby saw UROP as an opportunity to do archival research in an area outside of music, while Trey saw the chance to learn about an important aspect of being a History professor. Both students are “big into history” and leaned toward humanities-based research.

Tyler Roy is a senior majoring in History with a minor in Law and Philosophy. After joining FSU, Tyler participated in the Freshmen Leadership Institute, and worked for the Student Senate as chair of the PAC. Tyler founded the History Club at FSU and was its first president. He is planning on going to law school.

Where are you interning? Why?

I am interning at the Florida Capitol for the Office of the Senate Secretary. I chose this internship because it allows me to support and learn more about Florida's legislative process from the unique perspective of a nonpartisan employee.

What do you do? What does a day in the internship look like?

As a Reading/ Action Clerk for the Florida Senate I help organize and read the bills being considered during each Senate Session on the Senate floor. This fulfills a requirement in our Florida Constitution when considering bills. I also read the special messages for the Senate President and the Senate while in Session. Additionally, I help conduct Senate Chamber tours for school and lobbying groups. Lastly, as a part of the Senate Secretary's Office I help support the Senate Page Program. This program sees groups of high schoolers come to Tallahassee to support and learn about our state's legislative process.

Logan Buffa is a senior studying History and Political Science at Florida State. Logan transferred to FSU as a junior in 2020. Upon graduation, he plans to go to graduate school in History. Right now, he is hoping to continue working on his Honors in the Major project for his MA. He hopes to become a professor in American history.

Why did you decide to do an Honors in the Major (HITM) project?

I wanted to go to graduate school. So, I reached out to Dr. Mooney to discuss it and the application process. When we talked about suitable writing samples, she mentioned that one of the better ways of producing one is to write an Honors thesis. Not knowing much about the HITM program, I thought it was a great way to start the process of research, the process of grad school.

How easy was it for you to you find a topic for your thesis?

I started off not knowing what kind of history I wanted to focus on. Dr. Mooney and I agreed to work on the HITM project together, and after some initial brainstorming, I went to her with a list of about 15 potential topic ideas. All focused on American history, mostly on Southern history, as that is what Dr. Mooney specializes in.

My name is Taylor Aspinwall, and I'm a Master's student in FSU's Public History program. My research focuses on interactivity in museum spaces. 

Where did you do your internship and why?  

I did my internship at the Tallahassee Museum because they merge history with environmental conservation. I really enjoy being outdoors, and I have had previous experience working as an environmental educator, so this opportunity was perfect for me!

How did you find out about your internship? 

I found out about the internship by emailing their education coordinator.  I asked if they had any available internships, and I had to fill out an application to indicate what position I was most interested in.

What did you do during your internship? What did a regular day look like?

I am known as a Conservation Education Intern. I primarily work with their education department, creating programs for their Summer Camps, Home School Programs, and Day Camps. In addition to these duties, I also get a chance to be hands-on and work with the education animals by giving daily animal encounters to the public. These education animals are ones that are native to Florida and are very important to Florida’s ecosystem, such as the Indigo snake, Florida Pine Snake, and the opossum. Giving the public a chance to get up close and personal with these animals helps the public’s awareness of these animals and their conservation status overall, as many have a threatened or protected status.  

Frank Amico is a PhD student in the History department working with Dr. Ron Doel.

Tell us about your major area of research!

My major area of research is environmental science history, in particular looking at climate as an idea and scientific study. I try to bring a gendered approach in trying to understand how scientists and the public perceived their relationship to the environment. 

What minor fields did you chose?

My minor fields are US History 1865-present, World/Global History, and Public History. I chose the first two fields because my primary research focuses on twentieth century U.S., and I plan to apply a global perspective to that project. These fields also prepare me to be able to teach courses in those subjects. I am doing Public History because thinking about how the public understands history and uses historical narratives is a fascinating and critical topic. Making academic history more accessible and being qualified to engage in different public spaces as a professional historian is important to me. I hope to incorporate public history components into my primary research project.

How did your interest in history start more generally? What do you do for “fun” history nowadays?