Student Spotlight

Brandon Copeland, Levine Research Prize Winner
(Posted Winter 2010)

Brandon Copeland received the Levine Research Prize (Fall 2009) for his essay, "A Controversial End to the First Barbary War: The Treaty with Tripoli". Copeland's study is a reassessment of the treaty that ended the first US-Barbary War. During the spring of 1805 the United States altered its course from military action to diplomatic negotiations. Brandon argued that the peace treaty of 1805 and its chief negotiator, Tobias Lear, have been unfairly subjected to criticism by contemporary partisans and modern historians alike. One of the greatest strengths of Brandon's paper was his understanding of the historiographical context, which he gained by reading broadly and deeply in the scholarly literature. He reviewed all of the major works on Barbary Piracy.

"It is difficult to view the treaty which ended the first Barbary War in 1805 as a dishonorable or poorly conceived treaty. Lear’s objectives were to secure a liberal peace, free the American hostages, and set up free trade with Tripoli. All of these goals were reached at the minimal cost of a $60,000 ransom. Historians who judge Lear harshly do so because they are putting modern bias on events of the past. We know now that the United States would become a military juggernaut but at the time the Navy was far from certain of success. It boggles the mind how a treaty that was so favorable to the United States can viewed as a failure. Worse still, the $60,000 ransom was far less than the annual tribute paid by European powers every year for peace with the Barbary States. Lear deserves recognition for his role in saving 307 American captives and protecting American shipping in the Mediterranean. Lear through determination and a refusal to compromise on tribute secured a treaty that would be the basis with which all peace with the Barbary States would be concluded and lasting peace with Tripoli."

Brandon's essay met capstone requirements for both the History major and Baccalaureate Honors Program. Copeland expanded his paper from Professor John Hillje's HIS-460 Seminar in an independent study under the direction of Professor Brooke Hunter. He further honed his honors thesis by participating in an Undergraduate Research Workshop sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania. MCEAS is a leading research center and for the past 30 years has offered prestigious fellowships for graduate and post-doctoral scholars. The consortium is comprised of mid-Atlantic archives and 15 colleges and universities including Rider. In an effort to extend the Center’s benefits to undergraduate students, Rider professors Brooke Hunter and Roderick McDonald worked closely with faculty from other MCEAS Consortium schools to create a workshop for seniors writing an honors thesis or capstone research paper in the field of early American history. The Workshop included two meetings: a works-in-progress seminar held on Friday, February 27, 2009 and a Conference held on Saturday, April 25, 2009. At the conference undergraduates delivered 10-minute presentations of their research and graduate fellow mentors commented on student papers followed up with questions from the audience. Brandon joined seven other students from Bryn Mawr, Richard Stockton College, University of Delaware, Johns Hopkins, and SUNY Stony Brook. Their research sparked a lively intellectual exchange among undergrads, grad students and faculty. The Workshop helped students improve their research, writing and public speaking skills and build an intellecutal community that extended beyond their campus walls. Brandon's mentor, a PhD candidate from George Washington University, praised both his scholarship and oral presentation. Brandon said it motivated him to work harder and made a big difference in the quality of his final paper. Clearly, he was right.

Brandon is in law school at the University of Indiana-Bloomington.

Interview with Levine Research Prize Winner Christie DeCarolis
(Posted May 2009)

Christie DeCarolis received the Spring 2009 Levine Research Prize for her essay, "Defining School Segregation: A Battle in Northern New Jersey, 1961-1963". Christie is a double major in Secondary Education and History with a Spanish minor. "Defining School Segregation" fulfilled the requirements for both the History major senior capstone and Baccalaureate Honors Thesis. Professor John Hillje directed the project. Christie also received the Levine Phi Alpha Theta Prize awarded to the graduating History or Education/History major with the highest GPA in History.

1: Why did you choose this topic? How did you refine it?

I knew I wanted to research something dealing with the desegregation of schools, as I thought it would be a good way to incorporate my education major. However, I felt that simply researching Brown v. Board of Education would be too broad or overdone, so I focused to desegregating schools in the north and then refined even further to desegregating schools in New Jersey. I chose Plainfield, Englewood and Montclair because these cities demonstrated some of the first attempts New Jersey took to desegregate schools after the Brown v. Board ruling; the three cases are also very different, and I wanted to see how each was handled by the state.

2: What is the nature of the existing scholarship on the subject, and how does your work contribute to what is already known?

Not much scholarship exists on desegregation in New Jersey schools in a general sense. There are a number of doctoral dissertations that exist as case studies of specific towns’ efforts to desegregate (Plainfield and Englewood, for example). However, it was very difficult for me to find secondary sources on the desegregation effort in New Jersey. My work does trace the general events that occurred in Montclair, Plainfield and Englewood between 1961 and 1963, but focuses mostly on the state’s motivations and actions to desegregate schools within this period. To my knowledge, no scholarship exists on this subject specifically.

3: What is your argument?

I argue that although the cases began as an issue over educational equality, the publicity of the fight for integration and the concept of the neighborhood school, in addition to the vague concept of segregation in the North, led the actual equality of education issue to be a minor one, especially since officials failed to create a specific definition of what constituted segregation in New Jersey and what was considered illegal. This struggle to define segregation while concurrently eliminating it allowed the idea of “racial imbalances” to overtake that of equal education.

In effect, New Jersey officials made decisions suggesting that schools affected by de facto segregation fell under the “inherently unequal” statement made by the Supreme Court in their ruling in Brown v. Board of Education; at the same time, they made decisions that would suggest they did not. This largely arose from the state’s failure to specifically define segregation, as well as pinpoint whether unequal educational opportunities were inherent or tangible, before the struggle in these schools occurred; integration was forced before decisions were made about what was acceptable and what was unacceptable in New Jersey’s cases of de facto (or unintentional) segregation.

4: Describe your primary source material (e.g., private letters, census records). What was your most important primary source and why?

I used a variety of primary sources, including articles about de facto segregation written during the time period, newspaper articles from the New York Times and court cases brought to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and New Jersey Supreme Court. I also relied on studies that attempted to explain the effects of segregation on Englewood, Plainfield and Montclair students.

The New York Times articles, court cases and studies were all equally important to my argument. It was essential for me to have access to all three sources in order to accurately trace events, motivations, and actions taken by the state and communities, as well as official decisions made by the state. My argument would not have been possible in the absence of any one of these sources.

5: What was the most interesting or surprising piece of information you learned from doing your research?

The events I researched, especially in Englewood, escalated to greater heights than I expected when I began my research. Figures such as Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X nearly became involved in the events that took place there; however, both withdrew from attendance last minute.

6: What research advice would you give to other students?

Make sure to pick a topic that does not limit your access to primary sources, as they are essential in building your argument. When you’re researching, don’t get discouraged if your research begins to take a different direction than you had initially thought. You might have to change your thesis a couple of times (thus making some of your research irrelevant) before you get it right, but don’t get frustrated. Also, staying organized and keeping track of your sources is important and makes things a lot easier once it’s time to start writing.

Interview with Levine Research Prize Winner Ben Gibson
(Posted March 2009)

Ben Gibson received the Fall 2008 Levine Research Prize for his paper, “Slaughter of the Vendée: Pacification, Religious Persecution, or Genocide?” Ben completed his studies at Rider in December 2008 with a History major and Political Science minor. His paper explores the Vendée counterrevolution in 18th-century France, a little known historical event, which has become a subject of debate in the history and memory of the French Revolution since the bicentenary. Ben received his award at the History Department's Annual Holiday Party where he delivered a brief presentation about his research project. (Pictured left to right: Department Chair Anne Osborne, Harriet Levine and Ben) This is not the first time Rider has recognized Ben for academic excellence. He was a member of Rider's 2008 Model United Nations team representing Syria, which won the Outstanding Delegation Award. Ben is also a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the History Honors Society. Ben is pursuing a graduate degree in Political Science.

1: Why did you choose this topic? How did you refine it?

The first advanced history course I ever took was on the French Revolution so it has always held a special place in my heart. The Vendée was a popular uprising, mostly Catholic, against the Republican government during the French Revolution. Even in an upper level history course we probably spent no more than 20 minutes on the Vendée, which is understandable given the scope of the French Revolution. Still, the Vendée captured my attention and never left my mind. I always thought the Vendée was a unique topic that had not received much attention so I sought out information about it over the years and collected a pile of books.

When I took Senior Seminar with Dr. Callahan my initial topic idea had to do with wars and conflicts surrounding salt. Luckily for me Dr. Callahan talked me out of the salt idea so I went back to the drawing board. I had considered the Vendée as a topic but I felt it might be too obscure and access to primary sources could be a challenge. After some initial research I decided that the Vendée topic was possible and Dr. Callahan encouraged me to pursue it, but the topic still needed narrowing. Since the 1980s there has been a movement within the Vendée region to get it officially recognized by the French government as genocide. This movement has caused great debate on the subject within France and in scholarly circles beyond its borders. After reading arguments on both sides of the debate I decided my focus on the Vendée would be the question of whether or not it was genocide.

2: What is the nature of the existing scholarship on the subject, and how does your work contribute to what is already known?

There are a number of books about Vendée. Reynald Secher's 1986 study, A French Genocide: The Vendée, claimed it was the first modern genocide. There are a number of recent journal articles that deal with the subject as well. Charles Tilly has authored many books and articles that examine the Vendée from a sociological point of view. An important contribution of my work is a clear synthesis of scholarship on Vendée and the genocide debate.

3: What is your argument?

I argue that the events in the Vendée did not constitute genocide. The people of the Vendée were the initial perpetrators of violence. The French government treated any "enemy of the state" with extreme hostility not just the Vendeans. Furthermore the Vendean people had no singular identity, the term "Vendée" was created by the French Revolution after redistricting. Secher relied on emotion, citing acts of extreme violence comparable to that of the Nazis in World War II, in order to make the genocidal connection. In simply calling the event genocide we ignore the broader historical context in which the Vendée uprising took place. I believe that studying Vendée can lead to a better understanding of revolution and counterrevolution in the past, present and future.

4: Describe your primary source material (e.g., private letters, census records). What was your most important primary source and why?

As many of the primary sources were in French I was fortunate enough to know someone willing to translate for me, Dr. Robert Allen of Stephen F. Austin State University. I used Dr. Allen to translate complex phrases that online software translators had difficulty with. I used sources such as speeches by Maximilien Robespierre, laws passed by the governing bodies of France, historic decrees such as the Edict of Nantes and the Edict of Fontainebleau, correspondence between lawmakers and generals and “eyewitness" accounts. I put eyewitness in quotations because they come from undocumented oral histories passed down through the Vendée, which is where Secher is from, including stories from his grandmother. Since Secher relied on these accounts to make his case for genocide, an important part of my argument against the term included a critique of these same sources.

5: What was the most interesting or surprising piece of information you learned from doing your research?

I applied American psychologist Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" theory to Vendée. Maslow states that hunger is the most essential physiological need that must be met before needs higher up on the scale including safety, belonging and esteem can be met. Maslow stated that until basic needs are met, "Anything else will be defined as unimportant. Freedom, love, community, respect, philosophy, may all be waived aside as fripperies which are useless since they fail to fill the stomach." As any student of the French Revolution knows, hunger was one of its most important causes. According to Maslow chronic deprivation of a basic need can cause neuroses which would explain why starving sans-culottes eventually came to view the less hungry Vendée as food hoarders trying to starve them into submission. Conversely, the Vendeans hunger needs were met as the Vendée was a very rich agricultural region, they therefore set about acquiring the next level of needs on Maslow's chart, security and when they felt threatened by the French Revolution they reacted violently. My application of Maslow’s theory demonstrates the interdisciplinarity of History.

6: What research advice would you give to other students?

The most important thing is to pick a topic that you will enjoy researching and writing about. Be realistic about the feasibility of your subject but at the same time do not let something turn you away from it because on the surface it appears too complicated or because the primary sources seem hard to find or access. Speak regularly with your professors and advisers as they have done this kind of work many times and are full of useful tips and ideas. If you want to do the best job possible expect to work hard and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Interview with Levine Research Prize Winner Jaclyn Becker
(Posted April 2008)

Jaclyn Becker received the Spring 2008 Levine Research Prize for her paper, "The Berkeley Syndrome: Free Speech and Protest, September-December 1964". Jaclyn, a History/Elementary Education major graduated in May 2008. She is now a teacher in northern New Jersey.

1: Why did you choose this topic? How did you refine it?

My primary focus of study at Rider has been in European history and I decided that the senior paper would be a wonderful opportunity to expand my horizons. I have always had a flare for Sixties culture, being a huge Beatles and Bob Dylan fan, and knew that a special topic might lie in this time period for me. I just had to find one. Originally, I planned to focus on Vietnam War protests on college campuses. The idea of people my age changing history excited and motivated me. I had my general theme chosen, but I was stuck when it came to narrowing it. I truthfully was not that knowledgeable about the history of this era so Dr. Hillje encouraged me to speak with Dr. Gowaskie. I went to Dr. Gowaskie desperately seeking help, but still planned on a Vietnam War related topic. He asked me if I had heard of “The Free Speech Movement” at Berkeley University and I said no. Within a few brief minutes of conversation, he told me that I would find this movement fascinating beyond belief. I took his word for it and now owe him such gratitude for helping me find the topic my heart was searching for.

2: What is the nature of the existing scholarship on the subject, and how does your work contribute to what is already known?

While I found the scholarship compelling, I was surprised by how little historians have written on the subject. This may be because it is a relatively recent event, I am honestly not sure. In general, historians writing about the Free Speech Movement (FSM) have tended to agree with one another. I relied most on Van Gosse's concise explanation of the Free Speech Movement in Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretive History (Palgrave Macmillian, 2005) and an older article by Kathleen E. Gates, “A Campus Revolution,” The British Journal of Sociology 17 (Mar. 1966): 1-19. Though my work concurs with existing scholarship, it takes a more in-depth look at the reasons for the success of the FSM. This topic merits further analysis by historians.

3: What is your argument? How did you reach this conclusion?

My paper focused on explaining why the Free Speech Movement was one of the most successful student protests of the Sixties. I argued that success resulted from the unified student body at Berkeley, its colorful leadership, and its clear ideology based on a strong understanding of the American principles of democracy. The Free Speech Movement attained its goals largely by combining the ideals of the American Revolution, specifically the First Amendment, with non-violent protest. I reached this conclusion through reading dozens of personal memoirs from FSM leaders and members. These passionate memoirs revealed both FSM methods and beliefs. FSM students demanded their right of free speech as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.


4: What was your most important primary source and why?

One of the benefits of studying modern history is that primary sources are often more abundant and more accessible. I discovered that I loved using microfilm. However, my most important primary sources came from the book The Free Speech Movement by David Lance Goines (pictured third from right). Goines himself participated in the movement and was one of the original eight students arrested for ignoring the Bancroft sidewalk ban. This collection of interviews, speeches, newspaper articles, photographs, and memoirs became my most important resource because of its focus on student protest techniques and motives. The memoirs especially allowed me to get into the minds of the students who participated in the movement.

5: What was the most interesting or surprising piece of information you learned from doing your research?

My answer is the arrest of FSM member Jack Weinberg and the police car sit-in on October 1, 1964. Weinberg was working at a distribution table for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) when he was asked to leave by two Berkeley deans. When he refused to comply, Weinberg was taken by police. Within a few seconds of entering the police car, someone shouted, “sit down” and within ten seconds two hundred students surrounded the police car. For 32 hours students blocked the police car from moving and its roof became a soapbox for whoever felt compelled to speak. The photographs of Weinberg and the sit-in were unbelievable. The dedication and organization shown by FSM students inspired me. It proved that young people can make a difference.

6: What research advice would you give to other students?

It is simple; the choice is yours so choose a topic that you are passionate about. Passion allows anyone to research for hours upon end, give up social outings, and forgo sleep with the greatest of ease. The personal satisfaction you gain at the end of a dedicated research paper makes it all worth it. Next, learn how to use your resources wisely. Professors are your greatest motivators and mentors especially if researching topics you are not familiar with. They are brilliant and will always steer you in the right direction. Also, become acquainted with the library at Rider. Before researching for this paper, I honestly did not realize how many good sources were there. Finally, pay attention during all those “library sessions” you sit through so many times, they help! Using the correct Boolean search can narrow down your sources tremendously, saving you hours of weeding through articles that are not relevant to your topic.

1) FSM rally, November 20, 1964 from the Free Speech Movement Digital Archive at UC Berkeley Bancroft Library.
2) Car Top Rally with Jack Weinberg, photo by Howard Harawitz from Free Speech Movement Archives.

Digging Into History at Monticello
(Posted January 2008)

Chris Mazur, a junior history and secondary education major, has always been interested in archaeology so when he heard about the Monticello-University of Virginia Archaeological Field School he applied. He was thrilled when an acceptance letter arrived in the mail a few months later. The six-week field school, held every summer, provides undergraduate and graduate students with a multidisciplinary and hands-on introduction to archaeology. The faculty includes leading specialists from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, environmental sciences and history. Students spend about an hour in the classroom and five hours in the field each day. Students study a variety of topics including macro- and micro-botanical remains, dendrochronology, zooarchaeology (including foodways), slave life in the Chesapeake, and surveying. Field trips fill out the curriculum. On one excursion Mazur’s class visited Jamestown Fort and Colonial Williamsburg where they met William Kelso, one of the most renowned archaeologists in the United States.

Each summer the Field School explores a particular Plantation Survey site in connection to their larger research project on changing land use patterns at Monticello from 1750 to 1860 and their ecological and social causes and consequences. Since 1997, researchers and students have excavated over 150 plots and discovered 30,000 artifacts. Mazur and the other ten Field School students of the class of 2007 worked on Site 8, an area developed by Thomas Jefferson when he took over Monticello Plantation from his father around 1770.

(Mazur is pictured in the striped shirt, bottom row and third from the left. Source: Monticello-University of Virginia Archaeology Field School website. Mazur excavating a quadrat at Monticello.)

The Field School set a number of goals for students at Site 8 starting with dating the occupation of the site. Mazur learned how to determine an approximate date range by analyzing mean ceramic dates and the bore sizes of tobacco pipes. Second, students worked on determining the boundaries of the site by studying the artifact densities around the site. Third, students searched for additional structures. Mazur learned how archaeologists locate where buildings once stood by studying artifact densities in certain areas of the site and discovering sub-floor pits (holes in the ground constructed by slaves to store prized possessions). Discoveries made by the Field School are incorporated into the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). DAACS is a path-breaking resource for the study of slavery allowing scholars to research and compare regional trends in slave life across the Atlantic world.

Mazur will tell you that archaeology is more challenging than you might think. The process begins with 5x5 quadrats (plotted by random sampling). The dirt removed is carefully sifted for small artifacts using ¼ inch mesh screens. Once the archaeologist begins to see a change in the color or the texture of the soil, he cleans up the context (a name determined by the archaeologist and given to each layer during excavation). After each context, the archaeologist seals each bag of artifacts and completes a context record (which includes the elevation of the context, artifacts found, soil descriptions, stratigraphic relationships, and a drawing). The artifacts are sent to the lab for cleaning, sorting, and documentation. The process is repeated for all contexts (unless there is a feature, in which case the process becomes more complex) until the archaeologist reaches subsoil. Archaeology is painstaking and back-breaking work. And, as Mazur learned in the Chesapeake, made even more difficult by hot & humid temperatures, snakes, chiggers, & ticks, and tree roots.

Mazur expanded his historical understanding of slavery in early America by learning how to read archaeological evidence. A common misperception is that slaves were unable to buy their own goods. The truth, according to the artifacts discovered, is that they did purchase wares. The artifacts found at Site 8 include ceramics (such as dishes and mugs), tobacco pipes and wine bottles. The Field School also provided Mazur with the opportunity to study a watershed moment in the history of the Chesapeake region- the transition from tobacco to grain. Changes in transatlantic markets prompted planters to abandon tobacco as a staple crop in favor of grain, largely wheat, at the end of the 18th century. Field School researchers date this shift at Monticello to the 1790s. One of the key areas of current research is the impact of the transition from tobacco to grain on the lives of enslaved people at Monticello. Preliminary findings reveal important changes in slave life as a result of this transition. Research shows that overseers supervised gang labor (all slaves doing the same task) during the tobacco cultivation period and often used punishment as a means to extract work. Also, slaves lived in large houses with people that they did not necessarily trust (as can be seen by the use of sub-floor pits to secure prized possessions such as food, liquor, and ceramics). With the transition to wheat cultivation, though, slave life changed dramatically. Agricultural diversification required specialization. The need of overseers decreased and the use of incentives (family-based housing and private livestock) began to replace punishment. Field research indicates that the distance between individual slave houses and between slave houses and overseer houses increased during the 1790s. Experts believe that the Revolutionary era slave quarter investigated by Mazur’s Field School class at Site 8 was burned down and plowed under to make room for wheat fields during the mid-1790s.

The Archaeological Field School at Monticello was an experience of a lifetime for Mazur. He learned the basic skills of an archaeologist and can now name and date colonial artifacts. He made new friends and established professional contacts with people from around the United States. He also used his free time to explore the beautiful and historic places around Virginia including the grave sites of Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe as well as Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, George Picket, Jeb Stuart, and the arm of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Mazur strongly urges other history majors to participate in programs such as the Archaeological Field School at Monticello. It is one thing to read about the past, but quite another to hold it in your hands. Also, it is exciting to know that you can walk into a museum and see an artifact that you once dug up. Lastly, and most importantly for Mazur, is the satisfaction of making a contribution to the study of History.