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History Conference Spotlights Undergraduate Research

Liz Connolly-Bauman
By Liz Connolly-Bauman

A research paper on Polish music, an examination of clothing worn in Japanese internment camps and a paper on how Black nationalism influenced the oldest Black theater in the United States were among the undergraduate research findings presented at a virtual history conference hosted by the History Student Society at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).

The two-day conference hosted by UMGC students in April turned a spotlight on nine research projects from around the world. The research addressed aspects of world history, and small cash prizes were awarded for the top four presentations.

“The best part of the conference was that it offered history students the chance to develop transferrable skills, present their research to the public, and, for rising seniors, to see how senior thesis projects are modeled,” said Professor Danielle Mead Skjelver, PhD, who teaches history at UMGC and serves as faculty adviser for the History Student Society. “UMGC students and alumni from the History Student Society planned and hosted the event.”

The top prize went to Case Western Reserve University student I'Maya Gibbs for a presentation that grew out of her research paper “Black Nationalism and Black Power’s Influence on Karamu House.” Cleveland’s Karamu House is the oldest Black performing arts theater in the United States.

“Studying the history of the theater in the 1960s and 1970s, I noticed a shift in its leadership, artistry and goals, which influenced me to write on the movements that influenced this change, i.e., the Black Power and Black Nationalist Movement,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said she planned to develop her findings further as part of a graduate school dissertation at University of Massachusetts Amherst and a book.  

UMGC Assistant Adjunct Professor of History Stephen Corbett served as keynote speaker for the first day of the conference. He said he was impressed by the students and “their very diverse interests and depth of scholarship.”

Corbett noted that since UMGC is a global campus, “our geographic diversity is also an interesting component that the conference organizers try to reflect.” He pointed out that the student moderator on the first day was a UMGC graduate student who teaches high school in Florida, while the student moderator on the second day was an active-duty military member who worked as a broadcast journalist for the Armed Forces Network in Italy.

UMGC’s Prize Committee for the conference was made up of faculty from the Department of History, alumni and students. Second-place prize went to another Case Western University student, Grace Lee, for her presentation on “Clothing and Power: Japanese Clothing in Internment Camps.” Third place was claimed by Howard University’s Hugh Goffinet for “Warriors from Another Land,” and fourth place was awarded to Finley Bandy at University of Maryland Baltimore County for “The Reds Are Going Our Way: Race and the Red Scare in Baltimore.”

The generosity of Jessica Sheetz-Nguyen, a retired adjunct professor of history, made the four prizes possible, and Professor Skjelver expressed in a letter to conference participants, “the high quality of the presentations made it challenging for the judges to narrow down the winners.” Prize criteria included a reliance on primary sources, a clear thesis threading through the presentation, presentation skills, and conclusions that encompassed the importance of the research within the context of scholarly discourse.  

“This was an extremely difficult decision this year. All of the presentations exemplified top-notch original research,” Skjelver wrote to conference participants.

The other presentations were:

  • “Policing Masculinity and Homosexuality in the SA and SS, 1933-1945” by McKenna Love from the University of Southern Indiana.

  • “Bridging Cultures and Breaking Stereotypes: Marion Dudley’s Unique Evolving Perspective on Chinese Women, 1927-1947” by Jingqi Su from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • “Krzysztof Penderecki's Polskie Requiem: How the Death and Rebirth of Poland Are Expressed Through Music” by Isabelle Wolpert, Boston University.

  • “Voting Charities in Victorian Britain” by Skyler Foley, College of William and Mary.

  • "The Transformative Decade and the Inspirational Legacy of the United States Most Prolific Sex Work Advocacy Organization: COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics)” by Ailean Duffie, Case Western Reserve University.

“I chose my topic for my capstone, which was a class called Global Victorian Era. I had no idea what I wanted to conduct my research on initially, so I started by looking for primary sources on disability in the Victorian era. In doing so I came across a source on voting charities, and I became extremely interested in the topic,” said Foley, who is about to graduate from William and Mary. “I think it resonated with me because of how clearly wrong these charities were to me. I could not imagine believing these charities were the correct way to improve social conditions, so I got interested in how individuals from the period justified them.”

Love, a junior history major, said she became interested in homosexuality in Nazi organizations while researching medical practices in Nazi Germany. “While conducting this research, I became even more intrigued in Nazi policies and the reasons behind the political decisions they made,” Love said.

UMGC undergraduate Katlin Katrina Muller assisted in planning the event and served as a chat moderator during the second day of the conference. “I love that this conference provides a venue for student voices,” she said.