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More exciting than terrifying: Zack Burton on PhD Programs

M.A. Student Zack Burton

M.A. Student Zack Burton

With the year coming to a close, many things are going through the minds of our soon-to-be graduates. The big “what now” questions can be answered with many options. Jobs and travel opportunities are just a couple of these. Another is to continue pursuing one’s education. This is the case with Zack Burton, who will graduate from BGSU’s M.A. History program this summer. His focus is on the history of businesses, fast food, and consumer capitalism. Zack has just been accepted into the University of Delaware history PhD program and will be an incoming Hagley Scholar. I was able to ask him some questions about his academic career and the process of applying into a PhD program:

What made you choose the field of history?

Zack: Lots of random, contingent reasons. Mostly great teachers: there was one guy in high school who would lead full trench warfare reenactments and spent an entire class period doing a bad-but-entertaining Napoleon impression. Not to mention the colorful four-person history department at SSU, which included a descendant of Syrian royalty on the run from the Assad regime, a licensed exorcist who taught me that destructive magic is best performed during the waning moon, and a self-proclaimed “Appalachian Buddhist” who lived in the middle of the woods. Everyone studying history has this irresistible storyteller’s glee that makes studying history seem like an unavoidable practice.

So eventually it just got to the point where I felt like studying history was a—pardon the phrase-“no-brainer,” and that whatever I studied I’d be studying history. Study math, and you’re studying the whole history of math. Study dental hygiene, and you…

When did you decide that you would pursue your doctorate?

Zack: I have since learned otherwise, but I entered graduate school thinking that I’d need to study history at the doctorate level and that an MA would get me nowhere. Totally untrue notion, but it kept me motivated enough to apply at BG and continue to pursue that dream. In a lot of ways, it just came off as a sort of big, overwhelming achievement and the challenge of attempting it seduced me immediately.

Where did you apply?

Zack: BGSU for two programs: an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in American Culture Studies. I applied at the history programs at both the University of Oregon and the University of Delaware.

Where were you accepted?

Zack: I was accepted into both the ACS Ph.D. program and the program at UDel. Oregon sent me a very pleasant rejection letter. I still haven’t heard back from the MFA, which should give you a good idea of how difficult it is to apply to programs in more than one field.

What did you need to do in order to apply to these doctoral programs? Were the requirements the same? Were they different?

Zack: Pretty much the same overall. CV/résumé, personal statement/statement of purpose, writing sample, unofficial transcripts, three letters of recommendation. In my broader search, however, I encountered programs requesting one-page CVs and even ones that requested both a personal statement and a statement of purpose, which are different things on little more than molecular level.

What do you plan to do after earning you PhD?

Zack: Despite being warned against it by countless advisers and mentors, I am still interested in pursuing an academic job. Teaching is a wonderful opportunity to have conversations, engage with Young People™, and continue learning long after you graduate. Publications, conferences, and networking all carry a sort of glowing, awe-inspiring significance for me and as I go deeper into the rabbit hole this significance both becomes more attainable and takes on new, more fascinating shapes.

What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing their PhD?

Zack: “If you have to ask whether or not you want a Ph.D., don’t get one.” It’s a bit black-and-white and I understand that it doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s the best advice I ever received. Sit down and make a list—if you can find greater than five things you sincerely don’t like about college, you probably shouldn’t condemn yourself to five more years of it.

On the other hand, if you really are considering it, there are a few general rules you can follow. Apply to a school only once you’ve at least Skyped/met with professors there. Don’t let an intimidating GRE score or page count requirements deter you; they’re often ignored in favor of candidates who have done the proper networking and presented a strong writing sample. Finally, if you’re doing mental gymnastics to make yourself seem like a solid candidate, you probably need to apply elsewhere. When applying to Oregon, I tried to make my interest in studying fast food and consumer capitalism mesh with folks who were studying the 19th-century logging industry. Things didn’t work out.

Anything else you would like to add?

Zack: Since starting the MA I’ve repeatedly told people that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of in the world of higher education. However, I’ve considered recanting that statement since applying for the Ph.D. By all means, anxiety is an okay thing. You can and should worry a little. But always keep in mind that higher ed, its opportunities, and even adulthood are more silly and exciting than terrifying—like a roller coaster, or like some sort of bumbling, cartoonish monster. Don’t run from them.

M.A. students show off their research at the 2017 OAH Conference

We were not partaking in any jokes this past April 1st! Instead, several BGSU M.A. history students presented research papers at the annual Ohio Academy of History Conference. This year the conference was held at The Ohio State University. The conference began in the afternoon of March 31st. The first to present was Lizzy Hile in the panel on Health Care and Child Care in Ohio with her paper titled “The Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918: A Case Study in Bowling Green, Ohio”.  This day ended with a round table discussion on the College Credit Plus Program, moderated by Dr. Scott Martin.

The next day began bright and early with presentations starting at 9 a.m. On the panel for African American History beyond the Plantation Narrative, Chris Lause presented his research titled: “After the KKK: The Black Legion in Lima, Ohio”. Dr. Kara Barr also presented her research on the panel for Political Philosophy, Modern and Post Modern titled, “A Philosopher and a Thief: Intellectual Property and Radical Thought in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” Two BGSU students were on the panel for Business on Main Street America. Kaysie Harrington presented her research paper “’The Silver Dollar Man’: The Evolving Reputation of Toledo Defense Attorney Dan McCullough”. Alyssa Kapelka also presented on this panel, speaking on her research paper “These Wines Knew There Was a War On: How World War II Affected the Engels and Krudwig Winery”. Presentation continued all throughout the morning. Zack Burton presented his research project “Of Pizzas and Protests: BGSU in the Aftermath of the Kent State Shooting” on the panel for the 1960’s Generation Clash. On the panel for Migration, Nichole McCrory and Michael Horton presented their research “Haven or Hell? The Journey to America of Nine Hundred and Eighty-two European Refugees” and “A Competition of Efficiency: Mortality Rates among British Slave Ships 1712-1732”, respectively.

After lunch and the final acts of Dr. Martin as OAH president, one more panel of BGSU Students remained. This was a panel on the topic of NASA with Allison Nelson presenting her project “Intelligent Science: The Shifting Policies of Operation Paperclip”. Michael Horton returned for a second presentation with his paper “No Gold on the Moon: Generating and Maintaining Public Interest in Going to the Moon.”

Conferences offer wonderful opportunities for critique and practice for graduate students. This year, everyone showed off the depth of their knowledge and research. BGSU was well represented at the OAH conference of 2017, and are hopeful to do the same for conferences to follow.

BGSU M.A. Students enjoying lunch after a long day of presentations

BGSU M.A. Students enjoying lunch after a long day of presentations

Myths and facts about history and careers

The latest Perspectives on History, the magazine of the American Historical Association, published a very good article using an extensive household survey to see where History majors stand in occupational map. It is titled “History is not a useless major: fighting myths with data.” (Open here.) While it is meant for an audience of history professionals it has relevance to students. It is based on the American Community Survey, a dataset collected periodically with more than three million participants and that is the gold standard of socioeconomic and demographic information. Using the major reported by the respondents, this study shows that history majors are doing very well in the job market. They have a low unemployment rate, they tend to work in many walks of life, and they earn good money. The secret to the good career paths of History majors have a very broad arch of career options. Careers with a higher remuneration involve graduate school, which is a strength of History majors. 

This information is consistent with other evidence. The Hamilton Project’s compiled salary evidence from student loan repayments and reports them in its “Careers Earnings by College Major” page (open here). History majors make as much as other college majors, even a little more than typically career- and business-oriented degrees. Our own study of the alums of the BGSU history major, shown in our webpage, also indicate that the career paths are quite varied. Business, government and law are our main careers. (In BGSU, teacher education is in the College of Education’s Integrated Social Studies major.) Our alums most commonly refer to their occupation as analyst, specialist, researcher or manager, among a large variety of job descriptions.

One may say that the take-away for those interested in doing a history major is that it pays off to study what you are passionate about. Studying for the love of knowledge will pay your bills, and also make you a wiser and more empathetic human being.

Ohio History Day 2017 a Labor of Love

2017 - History Day Photos

Vintage Polaroid Photos of Ohio History Day taken by CAC staff member Megan Goins-Diouf

Last month members of the History Department and the Center for Archival Collections orchestrated Ohio History Day. Since 1974 the Ohio History Connection has hosted this competition among junior high and high school students in affiliation with Nation History Day.  According to their website, Ohio History Day is “…an exciting program that makes history come alive for students. Students learn history by doing history. Students conduct historical research that leads to imaginative exhibits, documentaries, original performances, websites and scholarly papers” (you can read more about this competition and the Ohio History Connection at this link).

A lot of preparation goes into Ohio History Day when it is hosted at BGSU.  Libby Hertenstein, rare books and metadata librarian at the Center for Archival Collections was one of many that helped to organize this annual competition. This was her second year. “The most challenging part was amount of people involved,” said Hertenstein. “We had over 260 students register [for history day]! That’s a lot of people to plan and be prepared for.” Not only did the preparation include over 200 students, but it also included organizing volunteers to judge these projects. History professionals and enthusiasts all gave their time to evaluate projects and pass students onward to the next round. Two of these judges were Dr. Rebecca Mancuso, a professor in the BGSU history department and Kaysie Harrington, a current history Graduate student.

For Dr. Mancuso, this was her first year as judge. “Throughout my own education, I never thought much about doing history competitively!” stated Mancuso.  “I think the competitive element makes the event exciting and encourages students to do their best. There are competitions urging students to excel in sports, business and even art, so why not history?” Kaysie Harrington had been a judge in years previous, first hearing of the competition through fellow history student, Lizzy Hile. When asked about her favorite part of History day, Harrington said that she enjoyed seeing students becoming as excited about history as she is. “I also love that it brings together so many different levels and types of historians” stated Harrington. Dr. Mancuso judged the exhibits and websites, as well as offering to be a runoff judge for the second round. “The websites were quite impressive” when asked about her favorite project. “I honestly can’t pick a favorite.” stated Harrington who had judged a research paper, a documentary and several websites.  “Both times I’ve judged I’ve been impressed with the quality of research conducted by many of the students, and the enthusiasm they have for their topics is just contagious.”

Some of the many projects presented at Ohio History Day 2017

Some of the many projects presented at Ohio History Day 2017

For these women involved, they all commented on how rewarding the experience was. “The kids work really hard all year and it’s wonderful to see how much they’ve learned” said Libby Hertenstein. “You won’t regret it,” said Kaysie Harrington when commenting on her experience as a judge. “It’s a wonderful day to spend a Saturday. It’s a chance for you, as a judge, to learn as well as the students.” For students interested in participating in history day, the judges had advice to give. Kaysie Harrington encourages students to “Pick a topic that will hold your interest. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to ask challenging research questions.” Dr. Mancuso suggested that students explore the world of sources. “The more you read, the more you know. I firmly believe that reading history books and researching has enriched my own life beyond measure.”

Hess Lecture to Focus on World War I

Lloyd Ambrosius

The Department of History cordially invites you to attend the Gary R. Hess Lecture in Policy History: “The Paradox of Wilsonianism: World War I and American Internationalism” by Lloyd E. Ambrosius of the University of Nebraska.  The lecture, scheduled to coincide with the centennial of America’s entry into the First World War, will take place at 4:00 pm on Thursday, March 30, in Room 228 of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union.  At the initiative of Professor Hess’s former students, this annual lectureship is held to recognize his contributions to the profession and university during his forty-five years of service from 1964 to 2009.

Lloyd E. Ambrosius is Emeritus Professor of History and Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which honored him with the Louise Pound-George Howard Distinguished Career Award in 2015.  Professor Ambrosius is one of the leading scholars of the Wilson Presidency.  He is the author of Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective (1987), Wilsonian Statecraft: Theory and Practice of Liberal Internationalism during World War I (1991), and Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy in American Foreign Relations (2002).  His forthcoming book on Woodrow Wilson and American Internationalism will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

Book Cover

Book Cover

Professor Ambrosius has participated throughout his career in the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) in various ways, including membership on its Council and the Editorial Board of Diplomatic History. He also served as member and chair of the SHAFR program committee and the selection committee for the Norman and Laura Graebner Award.  His historiographical essay on “Woodrow Wilson and World War I” will appear in the April 2017 issue of SHAFR’s newsletter, Passport.  He was president of the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era for two years in 2015 and 2016, having served the previous two years as vice president.  He continues as a member of its Council.

Internships lead to great opportunities

2017 Alyssa Kapelka at the CAC

By Alyssa Kapelka, History B.A. alum and current M.A. student

By the time I had reached my senior year of my undergrad, I was finally sure of where I fit in with the field of history. I wanted to be a public historian and deal with history first hand. As I did my research, I found that many museums and archival enters required experience before being hired (the case with many professions). So I began applying for internships, the best way I could receive field experience all while being a full time student. I applied to any local archive and history museum I could think of and was accepted by one, the BGSU Center for Archival Collections (CAC).

I was given many different projects at the CAC, but my largest and most time consuming was the task of processing MS-254, also known as The Engels and Krudwig Winery Collection. Our former CAC director, Steve Charter, was going to deaccession and throw the collection away, but after I had looked through some of the first few boxes, I felt that there was potential. So in February of 2016, I began the 6-month processing project for MS-254. In an archival setting, processing is when a person, or archivist, goes through the collection, getting rid of unnecessary papers and documents. This process is not as simple as it sounds and can take much time.

Once this process was competed, the collection was narrowed from 40 boxes to 21. By this time, I was in the middle of my first year of Grad school here at BGSU and had been hired on at the CAC as a part time student assistant. I had also been enrolled in a Local History course and had chosen to write about the winery and its business during World War II for my final paper. The paper I wrote for Local history is one that will be taking to a history conference in March and is a possible area of research for my upcoming MA thesis project. All of this had come to me from one simple undergraduate internship.

Processing is when a person, or archivist, goes through the collection, getting rid of unnecessary papers and documents. This process is not as simple as it sounds and can take much time.

The step that I am currently working on is putting official labels on each folder in the collection. Once this step is completed, it will be time to write the finding aid; my goal for this project. The finding aid is the online resource that lists the collection, it’s history, scope, and its holdings for patrons to search online (see here for a guide of a similar collection). My research into this collection and analysis of documents while processing will be of great help when I begin to compose. MS-254 will be an official collection at the CAC one I finish the finding aid. Patrons can come in, look up my finding aid on our website, and then can request the collection for research. Not only is it great practice for my future career as an archivist, but this wonderful piece of history is now preserved for research and enjoyment.
My experience shows that a lot can come from becoming involved in volunteer work or an internship in your respective field. Experiences like mine can lead to jobs, thesis topics, networking opportunities and so much more. My advice to all undergraduates and incoming grad students is to take these experiences when you can. They can be time consuming, but they can also lead you down paths that will aid you in your future academic and professional careers.

A Look at Our Scholarships: The Mary Ellen Keil Scholarship

By Nicole Farley, History Senior

Mary Ellen Keil was a Bowling Green native, born in 1915, with strong roots to her home town. After attending elementary and high school in Bowling Green, she continued her higher education in the then “Bowling Green State Normal College.” By the time of her graduation as a Bachelor of Arts, the normal college became a university. Mary Ellen attended Ohio State University for her master’s degree. She then taught high school in Powell, Ohio and elementary school in Massachusetts. In 1943, Mary Ellen joined the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. After the disbanding in 1944, she and a few others bought an airfield in Michigan to sell airplanes and teach flying until 1950. She eventually went back to teaching until her retirement in 1976 and was active in the Women’s Movement during this time as well. She passed away in 2002 and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Bowling Green.

Photo of Mary Ellen Keil in the International Women's Air & Space Museum

Photo of Mary Ellen Keil in the International Women’s Air & Space Museum

We are fortunate to grant every year two Mary Ellen Keil Scholarships for Ohio-native female students who are majoring in history. All incoming history majors meeting the criteria are referred to the History Department automatically. Keil scholars typically receive the scholarship in the first year and keep it for two years.

You can check the departmental scholarships on our website.

“The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks.”  By Jeanne Theoharis

This past Tuesday January 24, distinguished professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College spoke about her book “The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks.” She begins began her talk recounting a story of Rosa Parks’ youth when she decided to stay up late with her grandfather, who sat armed on the family porch to protect the family while they slept from white violence. Young Rosa said that wanted to seetheoharris him shoot a ku kluxer. Theoharis argued throughout her talk that the “national fables” constructed about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement are “dangerous” and comfortable.” Comfortable in that they reduce a lifelong radical activist like Parks to a tired woman on a bus and dangerous because they are used to silence contemporary movements for social justice such as Black Lives Matter. She believes today peple need an example like Rosa Parks, but that we must accurately understand her life. Later in her life, Theoharis states that Rosa Parks described Detroit as the “Northern Promise Land that wasn’t,” illustrating another one of those national fables: that racism was isolated to the South. When finished, Theoharis was awarded a round of applause by the audience and then proceeded to take questions.

By Nicole Farley, senior, and edited by Dr. Nicole Jackson

Gain Professional Training in the History Major

In the fall of 2016 I took on the responsibility of coordinating professional internships for History majors, a task I find rewarding and one that helps our students find meaningful work in the world. There’s no doubt it can be hard for students to find a career path, and this is the case for graduates with many types of degrees, not just history. One of my goals is to show students that there is not only a good deal that they can do, but that they can find work they want to do. I’ve found that serving as internship coordinator has brought back the memories of my own rather clumsy start in the professional world.

I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do when I graduated with my degree in French and History from BGSU in 1987. Never mind all the talk about the “Go-Go Eighties,” I felt pretty Keep Calmdiscouraged when my applications for all kinds of positions went nowhere. To be honest, I had not taken the time to research job possibilities, to go to job fairs, or even to talk to working people about possible opportunities out there. My job applications were like shots in the dark, we might say. But just when I thought I’d never find anything better than working at the local soda fountain (I served ice cream at Rogers’ Drug Store, now Tubby’s Tavern in downtown BG), I got a call back – from none other than the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS was hiring, and the human resources office in Toledo liked my resume. My meagre savings were dwindling and I figured I didn’t have much to lose; I said “yes” to an interview, and then “yes” to a job in the collections department. I was thrilled at first, because this proved that humanities majors can get jobs, but whether I would like it or not was another matter.

I started by helping people file basic tax returns, and after four months I graduated to a field position, which meant knocking on people’s doors to tell them it was time to pay the Taxman—er, Taxwoman in this case. I was a full-blown tax collector, and considering my interests, it was about as fun as it sounds. I quickly learned that I didn’t like the job and the public certainly didn’t like me, so the lesson was clear: I had a sense of the kind of work I did not want to do. Within a year, I was glad to land a job in a university library where, believe me, I worked all the harder because I realized the importance of giving real thought to my career path. I clearly remember wishing I had had the opportunity to serve as an intern to help me figure out what I wanted, and did not want, as a career. Now, as internship coordinator I’m happy to be in a position to help others do just that.

It’s often said the university environment isn’t the “real world.” This is of course not true; the university is the real world, but just one facet of it. An internship gives students opportunities to apply what they are learning, and to learn even more. In institutions like the Wood County District Public Library, the Hayes Presidential Center, the Wood County Historical Society, or with city government, students put classroom knowledge and skills to work, but in new ways. For instance, classes at BGSU provide broad knowledge of World War I or the Great Depression, while an internship demonstrates how to restore and catalogue valuable artifacts from these eras, how to win grants for education programs, or how to design a museum exhibit. Our students have done all of these things!

What’s particularly important to me is that students are given a placement in an institution that interests them. It’s important to understand that in any organization there will always be mundane work to do, like filing or stuffing envelopes, but I try to ensure that students’ interests fit with an institution’s mission. Each student seeking a placement has an initial consultation with me where we discuss the student’s goals as well as the requirements of the internship program. Internships are best undertaken after a student has achieved junior status, and can be done in the summer or during one’s junior or senior year. Fitting the internship into the student’s schedule is often quite easy.

Come April, don’t ask me to help you with your tax returns, as I’m not so good at it. But if you’re looking for a great internship – that I am willing to do!

Please find information on internships in the History major on our webpage.

Click here for Dr. Mancuso’s profile and contact info.

My Experience in the Undergraduate Symposium on Diversity

Jake Householder

Jake Householder, left, showing the poster

By Jake Householder, a History senior

Last January 20th, 2017, I presented a poster at the Undergraduate Symposium on Diversity, organized by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. The poster was about the discrimination, suspicions, and questions of loyalty most Americans had for German-Americans and German immigrants during the First World War. I looked at many newspapers from both general publications and German ethnic newspapers in midwestern states like Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, etc. I found out that paranoia was everywhere in many communities throughout these states where the majority of people living there were of German descent. German ethnic newspapers voiced many responses to these questions of loyalty that the majority American public had for them.

Seo & Wright

Seo (right) and Wright (left) showing their posters to visitors

My experience was very enriching in many ways. I previously wrote a research paper on the topic, but the poster presentation allowed me to delve deeper into it. The symposium was a very well done event. Two speakers opened the event with provoking thoughts. Still, my favorite part was seeing all of the posters. Posters were varied and well executed, in my opinion. Overall, I’m very glad that I decided to be a part of this symposium and I recommend to others to do the same.

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