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Sarah Shields
Sarah Shields

Update from the Director of Graduate Studies, Prof. Sarah Shields

Our graduate students are remarkably resilient! After a year of challenges just getting to the libraries and archives they need for their work, almost 20 were off campus doing research on a variety of grants and fellowships. See the whole list in the Annual Report coming your way this summer.

We made a variety of changes to the program this year as we reconsidered what historians would need to be able to do in the future, especially re-examining our field structure, comprehensive exams, and admissions. Our new class was admitted without the usual field quotas for a fascinating distribution across geographic space and time. The 14 future historians joining us come from five countries (Australia, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and the United States) and will each have two advisors. They will be asking questions that span varied methodologies, and working on a fascinating array of projects across centuries and continents.

Our current students continue to engage with diverse publics. This year, three of our students are working with Carolina Public Humanities. Alexandra Odom is a Maynard Adams Fellow, part of a select cohort of graduate students working to build relationships with the broader community. Matt Gibson and Craig Gill are part of the Humanities for the Public Good Graduate Fellows program, helping North Carolina institutions collaborate with UNC to build skills. During the summer of 2022, Jennifer Standish has a Mark Clein Graduate Summer Internship Award to work with Carolina K-12, a program of UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Public Humanities, to develop K-12 curricula on United States labor history.

The graduate students make remarkable contributions to our students in the classroom as well. Four of our students received teaching awards this year, all of them nominated by undergraduates in their classes: Cristian Walk received the Tanner Award for Graduate Teaching Assistants, a University-wide honor bestowed on central court at the Dean Smith Center during halftime. Lindsay Ayling received the Peter Filene Creative Teaching Award for bringing history alive in the classroom. Frederick Cochran received the UNC History Department Outstanding Teaching Award for treating students as partners as he makes history seem “cool” and worthy of discussion. Marlon Londoño received the UNC History Department Outstanding Teaching Award for persistently helping students discover answers for themselves.

Graduate students are essential to the department. They teach our students, challenge our assumptions, share their research, interrogate our conclusions, and serve on department committees. Graduate student life continues to be a challenge for many, especially as rents increase and stipends remain low (only $17,000 annually). Your contributions have made it possible for the History Department to provide financial support for summer internships, summer research, and travels to present their work at conferences. We are extremely grateful.

This is my last column as Director of Graduate Studies. I am handing off the program to the competent leadership of your editor, Eren Tasar. I am more grateful than I can express for the opportunity to work with our graduate students. They are quite remarkable: generous with their knowledge, insightful in their work, compassionate with their students, active in our communities, and patient with me. Thanks to all of them.