Stellar Student Profile: Emily Reller

Emily Reller’s fascination with history began more than nine years ago in a seventh grade classroom. While attending Lincoln Middle School in Edwardsville, Reller said an American History class first piqued her interest into historical studies.

History major Emily Reller hopes to pursue a career working in museums after graduating from SIUE in May. (Photo courtesy of Reller)

“History has always been kind of fascinating to me; being able to learn about people who came before us — how they lived, and what they were concerned with,” Reller said. “It’s cool to see the roots of our own civilization and see how it evolved through time and became the world we have today.”

Her interest in historical studies continued while attending classes on SIUE’s campus. Now a 21-year-old senior, Reller will graduate this May with a degree in historical studies and hopes to earn a position working as a conservator or researcher at a museum. A Stellar Student selection, Reller has made SIUE’s dean’s list seven times, and hopes to one day become a history instructor.

Historical studies professor Steve Tamari said Reller’s ability to form original ideas on relevant historical events, especially the American Civil War, distinguish her as a student. For her senior thesis, Reller read texts on women’s roles in the Civil War and learned about women who played crucial roles for both sides by engaging in espionage.

“She carved out a niche that was original, and not a rehashing of old, tired debates about the Civil War,” Tamari said. “I think what really inspired her was finding an unusual angle that crossed both North and South and explored and uncovered the lives of women who are generally not told about in the Civil War.”

While poring through historical sources, Reller learned about women like Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy based in Washington D.C., and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Spy in Richmond, Va., who used her family’s fortune to aid and nurse Union prisoners.  Greenhow supplied intelligence to the Confederacy by forming friendships with presidents, politicians and generals. Greenhow’s activities played a key role in helping the South win the first Battle of Bull Run. Van Lew used common household items such as books and cookware to conceal information to the North.

“There were times when they would do what was considered to be a man’s job and there were times when they would do what was considered to be a woman’s,” Reller said. “It was very different — unprecedented.”

Last summer, Reller worked as a photo apprentice intern at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. There, she converted old photos into digital format and categorized the files into a database. She worked with photos from acclaimed St. Louis photographer Henry “Mac” Mizuki. Mizuki took photos of milestones in St. Louis’ architectural history including the construction of the Gateway Arch and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.

Reller, who participates in theatrical productions during the summer, said a popular American fictional novel set during the Civil War era was her first introduction into the time period.

“I’ve always loved the ‘Gone with the Wind,’ story,” Reller said. “I know it’s kind of romanticized and fictional but the culture that is exhibited through it has always fascinated me.”

Reller credits Dr. Tamari and assistant professor Erik Alexander with encouraging and helping her focus on her studies. She also drew inspiration from her mother, Laura Reller, an SIUE alum, who works as a nurse and nursing instructor.

“She’s always taught me to be a responsible person from childhood,” Emily said. “She’s always taught me when I have stuff to do like homework or a paper to get it done; to do what is expected of me both for myself and for other people. She’s always believed in me; she’s always supported me in everything.”

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