Student Spotlights

Kaylie Schunk, a student in the History Department's combined BA/MA program, was the first to win an award from the Andrew R.L. Cayton Memorial Fund, whose goal is to support student scholarship and career development.  The fund was started in 2016 to honor the legacy of Distinguished University Professor Andrew R.L. Cayton (1954-2015).  Schunk's account of her research activities follows below.

Kaylie SchunkWith his pioneering work on the Old Northwest Territory, Dr. Andrew Cayton breathed new life into the history of the Midwest, which had long been overshadowed by the East and West coasts.  He was able to convey the importance of this history to his students, so they could walk outside Upham Hall and wonder who had walked this land before them.   I often do so, too, since I specialize in the history of the American West, especially the Ohio River Valley.

My current research for my Honor's Thesis examines the understandings of nation and identity of the Myaamia (Miami) and the early U.S. Federal Government following British expansion into this region after the Seven Years' War.  In particular, I am investigating how the United States and the Myaamia each sought to assert their positions as legitimate states, and how political and philosophical ideologies, spirituality, and culture divided the two parties, causing them to discover and assert their national identities.

The Cayton Memorial Fund has allowed me to consult precious sources in the Edward E. Ayer Collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago.  These documents, ranging from eighteenth-century letters to settlers' diaries, illumninate early pioneers' perceptions of Native Americans and how they interacted with one another.  They support Cayton's argument that Native Americans and Euroamericans did indeed find a mutual understanding.  I also found primary sources that give insight into the American settlers' perceptions of the contemporary political climate.  In addition, the Cayton Award enabled me to attend the 2017 Western History Association's Conference in San Diego.  There I met with scholars who provided valuable feedback on my work, and I developed connections with fellow graduate students.  Lectures and other events updated me on the current state of the field and enhanced my sense of what it means to be a practicing professional historian, not just a student in the classroom.  A meeting with Patricia Limerick, a founder of the modern field  of Western History, was especially touching.  Dr. Limerick was being honored for the thirtieth anniversary of her pathbreaking book, The Legacy of Conquest, yet she took ample time to speak with me as I nervously told her how much I admired her work.  Upon hearing about my Cayton Award, she hugged me and said, "This is because you are carrying on Andrew's legacy."


Mahaley Evans receives inaugural Library Award

Mahaley Evans graduated this spring with a BA in History and departmental honors. Her thesis research with faculty advisor Erik Jensen earned her the first Miami University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence (LAURE).Mahaley Evans

In the Fall she will attend Indiana University to pursue a dual MA/MLS in Russian and East European History and Library Sciences, in preparation for a career in museum and library work. We interviewed her about her experiences as a History Honors student.

Can you tell readers of the Newsletter something about your Honors project, your sources and conclusions?

For my Honors thesis, I researched the experiences of women under communism during the Cold War, focusing on East Germany.  I separated my thesis into three chapters, reflecting the three "waves" of rhetoric surrounding women's experiences under communism.  The first wave occurred during communist rule, when the government had a monopoly on information and regulated the media, claiming that East Germany had achieved social and economic gender equality; the second wave began after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when women expressed their overwhelmingly negative experiences, revealing the myth of gender equality and the inadequacies of the socialist system; and the third wave began around 2005 after roughly twenty-five years had passed since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, allowing time for reflection on the past and a reinterpretation of the socialist system's policies towards women.  This third wave shift also occurred when former-East German Angela Merkel achieved the highest position in the German government, being elected German Chancellor in 2005.  These three waves reflect the fluctuation of memory and history over time.

I compiled my research using various mediums including film, photography, memoirs, and secondary scholarly works such as books and journal articles.  Women's memoirs published after the fall of the Berlin Wall served as the most compelling materials because they revealed critical attitudes and experiences that the socialist government stifled during the Cold War.  Situating personal stories into the larger historical context helped balance the subjectivity of history, so I really appreciated being able to find primary accounts from East German women!

What were some of your more interesting experiences doing research on this subject?

Perhaps the most exciting experience that resulted from this research project was my brief email correspondence with one of the foremost scholars in the field, Myra Marx Ferree.  She touched on her interaction with East German activists and pointed me to a number of feminists and scholars that I hadn't heard of, so my project was definitely enhanced because of her assistance.

Miami's Special Collections provided me with invaluable primary resources.  Our library houses a large collection of propaganda posters, and I had the privilege of examining several Soviet posters that contributed to the state-regulated first wave.  The tangible, in-person research that I conducted at Miami's libraries certainly expanded the potential of my project, and I am grateful for the opportunities that our libraries present.

Please tell us about your experiences as a history major.

My love for history began when I was a child, but it has since grown and persisted because of my time as a History major at Miami.  Over the past four years, the experiences I had in and out of the classroom proved just how dedicated the History Department's faculty are to their students.  My professors were always evidently passionate about our class subjects, which encouraged me to learn and understand the material.  I was fortunate enough to work closely with a few professors that facilitated internships, jobs, and an overall formative experience.

After devoting the last year and a half to my Honors thesis (and having finally completed it!), I can confidently say that this program provided me with the best possible education from Miami.  The extensive research and writing process prepared me for graduate school and illuminated a side of academic history that I didn't know I could partake in at such a young age.  And aside from the incredible opportunity to create my own thesis, I really enjoyed the company of my History Honors classmates.  Being able to relate to them about struggles with writing and researching helped me maintain (or regain) my motivation throughout the process.  I also just made some great friends that conveniently share my nerdy love for history!