Historical studies graduate students present research at 10th annual symposium

Seven historical studies graduate students presented a year’s worth of research on 19th Century France on Saturday.

Historical studies graduate students presented research in a professional conference setting during the 10th Annual Graduate Student Symposium. Photo courtesy of Eric Ruckh.

The students are in historical studies professor Eric Ruckh’s Graduate Core Seminar in History and Theory, which lasts two semesters and culminates with the Graduate Student Symposium. All first year, historical studies graduate students are required to take the course, which focuses on historical theories and theorists. But Ruckh said the students put the information to practice through a single text, “Life of a Simple Man” by Emile Guillaumin.

“The course is about history and theory and the course is about how self conscious approach to the theoretical underpinnings of history can enhance people’s ability to ask historical questions and examine them and create historical knowledge,” Ruckh said.

Each student explores the text through a different theory, providing “different kinds of perspectives on what’s happening in 19th Century France,” according to Ruckh.

Historical studies graduate student William Doolin was on the first panel, “Assembling France,” during which he discussed the text through French sociologist Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory.

“The basic idea of [the theory] is that everything everyone is made up of an infinite number of associations,” Doolin said.

Those associations, according to Doolin, can range from humans and animals to ideas and nature. In relating the theory to the text, Doolin said for the text’s shepherd character he found sheep, grass, trees, natural landscapes and roads as “associations that go into who he is.”

“They reveal things about him that otherwise would not be seen if we looked at him in another way,” Doolin said.

Other colloquium sessions covered “Explorations of the Foundations of French Peasant ‘Mentalite’” and “Between Womb and Tomb: The Shifting Patterns of French Rural Life.”

The symposium has “at least two principle functions” for the department, according to Ruckh, in providing faculty with an opportunity to interact with graduate students and to see their work.

For students, however, Ruckh said it serves as “the culmination of the year.”

“They began thinking about their project at the end of fall semester, so this is an opportunity for them to see for themselves what they have learned and to put a year’s worth of work to the test,” Ruckh said, “and by testing it, by presenting their work in front of a group of people, to look at themselves and say, ‘I have made an enormous amount of progress,’ even though sometimes they feel like they haven’t during the year.”

Doolin said the symposium would prepare him from a practical standpoint to be better in the profession because he wants to earn a doctorate and teach history. It is also a “great opportunity” to network, according to Doolin.

A new component to this year’s program included time for former graduates or advanced graduate students currently in the program to comment on the students’ research. Commenters included alumni Eric Stensland and Zachary Riebeling and second year historical studies graduate student Myles Cameron.

Ruckh created the course and the symposium when he joined the historical studies department in 1999.

Undergraduate students also presented research this weekend during “The Craft of History: An Undergraduate Research Symposium.” Students explored various aspects of American and world history.

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