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Brett Whalen
Brett Whalen

Update from Director of Undergraduate Studies, Prof. Brett Whalen

During the Spring semester, the Department celebrated a number of prizes and other accomplishments. Allison Holbrooks was the winner of this year’s Cazel prize, which recognizes an outstanding graduating senior who has excelled in the study of history, contributed to the life of the History Department, and shown a profound commitment to the values of the historical discipline on and off campus. Among other roles, in the Spring, Allison took on a leadership role as the president of the History Undergraduate Association (HUA). In this position, among other responsibilities, she helped to coordinate events with the Career Mentor Coalition (CMC), the network of former UNC History majors who are acting as mentors for our current majors, whether their career interests lie in finance, law, government, NGOs, teaching or elsewhere.

Thanks go as well to Ash Huggins for her leadership as the president of our Phi Alpha Theta chapter, which continues to recover from the disruptions of the pandemic.

Simon Palmore won this year’s Joshua Meador Prize for the best 398 essay, “’Tearing Down a Building Won’t Stop Them: Memory as Source of Power in Brooklyn, Charlotte,” written under the supervision of Professor Marcus Bull. The prize recognizes the achievements of his essay on the deployment of oral history and memory as a means to recuperate the largely forgotten history of race and urban “renewal” in mid-twentieth century Charlotte, NC.

Last but not least, Philip Register was awarded the Frank Ryan prize for the best senior honors thesis, “Fresh Evidence: Re-evaluating Alexander’s Battle at the Granicus.” In this study (directed by Professor Fred Naiden), Register deals with new archaeological and geological evidence for the location and character of the important initial battle between the army of Alexander the Great and his Persian opponents. Stealth and local knowledge prove to be more important than previously thought, according to Register, and imperial plans and bravado to be less important.

Thankfully, as COVID recedes enough to allow student travel again, our majors have begun to study abroad and embark on research trips to libraries and archives. This has enabled History, after a two-year hiatus, to resume some of its grants and awards to support such activities. In the Spring 2022, Alex Kendrick won a David Anthony Kusa Award for travel and research at the Folger Library and the Library of Congress related to his senior thesis, “Manhood in the Court of the Queen” (under the supervision of Professor Marcus Bull). In the Fall 2021, Boyatt awards for study abroad (during the following Spring) were awarded to Abigail Akins (King’s College, London), Grace Taylor (Vienna), Dante Olivia (Barcelona), and Emily Orland (Copenhagen). In Spring 2022, funding for study abroad during the following summer went to Sheridan Mentch (Art on the Camino de Santiago), Stephanie Pierson (API Abroad), Hunter Nelson (King’s College London), Ajani Mcintosh (UNC International Sport Management in London), Joshua Kasheri (Florence), and Lejla Brka (University of Gothenburg in the Fall 2022). Congratulations as well to Christopher Westcott, who was awarded a departmental internship grant to support his internship at the Greensboro History Museum this upcoming summer.

I end this update on a somewhat bittersweet note: after five years of serving as the DUS in History, I am moving on from the position. While I am ready to undertake some new ventures, I will genuinely miss my role as the impresario of undergraduate studies in our department. Whatever the vagaries and challenges of higher education in the present moment, I can honestly say that I have never regretted a moment of the time I invested in thinking about our undergraduate students, including our stellar majors, and the quality of their education. I take great comfort in the fact that I am leaving the undergraduate program in more than capable hands: those of my successor starting next year, Professor Katie Turk. Welcome, Katie!