History Symposium

When I attended the history symposium for the first time on Friday, I had few to no expectations. All I knew was that this was where students would be presenting the fruits of their labor from their senior seminars, without having any inkling of the mechanics of this.
One of the things that surprised me the most was how similar the presentations were to the ones we gave in our 297 class. In a way, the presentations were less serious than I was expecting, with students having interesting visual in their backgrounds, and sliding jokes into their speeches.
The presentation that stuck with me the most was probably the first of the section I attended. It was, in my opinion, the most accessible to a historian unfamiliar with the topic, and the most intriguing. The presented argument was clear, concise, restated throughout the presentation, and fairly well argued, with quotes from the examined subject woven throughout. (I fully admit that this preference might be virtue of the order of the presentations.)
The two presentations after seemed to me to be just as good, but a bit more confusing.
Presentation #2, while interesting, seemed to focus a bit too much on historical background, and not enough time arguing a point. Even now, I can’t remember the specifics of this person’s topic.
The final presentation, though intriguing, was less impactful because I failed to understand all of the moving parts of the political machine described. This presentation, conversely, would have benefitted from more historical context. Even so, the point (from what I understood) was well-argued.

One moment that stuck in my brain was when one of the subsequent presenters referred to Kaiser Wilhelm as the “President of Germany.” This illustrates the necessity of knowing the background information of your topic, and preparing your speech so you know it back and forth in order to avoid any verbal slips.

I’m glad I was able to get a sneak preview of what to expect for my senior seminar, and to get a sense of how to be a more effective presenter!

Blog Post # 5: Oral Presentations

Q: Thoughts, vibes, feelings about oral presentations? How do you prepare for oral presentations? Lessons learned from good presentations you’ve seen? Tips?

Overall, I feel pretty good about the upcoming presentations. I’m glad and lucky that I’ve picked a topic that aligns so closely with my interests– it’s always easier to talk about things you feel passionately about. I feel like I have a strong grasp of the material, I’m very happy with the powerpoint I’ve prepared, I just need to practice my speech, and I should be good to go. One of the main problems I foresee is nerves.

When I’m nervous, I tend to talk fast and gesture with my hands a lot, neither of which is helpful for a listener to focus on the topic at hand. Remaining self-aware, and reminding myself to take a deep breath and stay grounded in the moment are the best advice I have. (Fingers crossed- feel free to comment with any other strategies!)

One thing I’ve learned, time and time again, is that I tend to psyche myself out before an important event. One of the most effective and helpful remedies is to use that nervous energy to fuel your preparation process. Keep good notecards, have the powerpoint figured out in advance, and know your speech like the back of your hand. Avoiding procrastination is hard, but you’ll feel so much better on the other side knowing you did all you could to make things go well.

It also helps to remind myself that everyone is human, everyone has been in that position. There’s not a single person on Earth that doesn’t know what it’s like to be nervous. As such, people are usually more understanding than you think. Even if you do make mistakes, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself! Treat the topic with appropriate seriousness, but don’t work yourself into a panic over it– generally speaking, things aren’t as big a deal as they feel, or may appear.

Blog Post # 4: Academic Databases

What academic databases do you find most helpful in your research? Challenging? Why? Strengths and weaknesses? Which ones do you think you should explore further?

Currently, my favorite database to look for sources is JSTOR! I have the most experience with this one, and I’ve had good luck using it for papers. One of my main pet peeves is that UMW doesn’t always have access to certain documents or articles on JSTOR, and I end up checking around the web to see if I can get access to it some other way.

Worldcat is one that I have not previously heard of, but I’m excited about being able to expand my academic options. The library is also a huge help for me. As I’ve recently figured out my ILL account, the librarian is incredibly efficient at getting the materials one needs, incredibly quickly– once, I put in a request for a book, and the book was in my hands later that day. I’ve already learned so much through class workshops, and I’m looking forward to learning more research tips tricks!

Historical Themes

One of the main themes I find interesting in history is to examine events through the lens of gender. The experiences of women throughout the ages, crossing centuries and countries and boundaries of language is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating areas of study, and one that has been grossly understudied. This lens colors all of my interests, some of which are listed below, and how

Last year, I took Dr. Poska’s European Women’s History class, and it was by far my favorite class I’ve taken in college thus far.  It helped to open my eyes to another historical narrative that is often forgotten or deliberately pushed to the side.

I’ve also noticed that as I continue my studies at UMW, my interests have changed. I came in as a freshman focused on European history, with a special interest in the middle ages and Rennaissance. I was utterly uninterested in American history, having been oversaturated with it throughout my public school k-12 education. (Glossing over racism, genocide, and slavery to support a narrative of American exceptionalism didn’t help.) Now, I have made a slight concession: I enjoy and am interested in American history… up until the point we become an actual country. I love the mixture of old-world and new-world that is American colonial history (more about that below), but that all dries up for me when we become an actual governing entity.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my distaste for military history! I hate how dry and technical it is, how concerned it is with battles and dates and troop movements. In addition to being a History major, I am also pursuing a degree in English, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the things that interests me is a good story. I love to hear about the human side of things, the “small” tales that you’d only get by zooming into the minutiae of an event, such as the American Revolution. My Favorite quote of all time is “The universe is not made of atoms, it is made of tiny stories.” For a very long time, I didn’t understand the meaning– until I began to delve into my studies of English, and history, in particular. The more I study, the more I find it to be true.

  • witches & witch trials (Europe and the US)

This is an interest of mine that has stuck around the longest. It also dovetails slightly with my interest in gender studies and (see below) folklore.

  • American Revolution (not military history)

Stories like that of Abraham Woodhull, Sybil Ludington, Molly Pitcher, and so many others can become lost in the overwhelming narrative of the American Revolution. In my studies, I like to bring things back to a more human, individual level, to try to understand the people of the time.

  • origins of folklore in colonial America

I love how human folklore is, how we can trace back some archetypal tales back thousands of years. In colonial America, this strange new world to the settlers bred new mythologies and superstitions, telling us about their beliefs, traditions, hopes, and fears.

When it comes down to it, I realize how easy it is to make historical figures and events into something much bigger and less approachable, and I’m just seeking to see these people for who they are, as humans just like the rest of us, trying to make our impression on the world in some way.

Introductory Blog Post

Hello, all! I’m Shawnya Peterson, junior History & English major. I’m so excited to get into the weeds of my history degree. For the intro blog post, I decided to take the opportunity to tell about myself just a bit.

My first image was chosen to represent the fact that I love literature, and Shakespeare in particular, with Macbeth being my favorite play. It is closely tied with Romeo and Juliet, which is a good way to sum up the dueling sides of my personality/interests: light and emotional and romantic, versus somewhat “darker interests”, my favorite of which being true crime.

The second image I chose because Shenandoah National Park is my favorite place on earth, especially in the fall (which is also my favorite season). I’m a Virginia native, and I’m in love with so much of what our state has to offer—from beaches to mountains to cities, there’s so much amazing local history and beautiful scenery to explore.

The last image I chose not only because coffee is my favorite beverage, but also because of what it represents in a sense: I love to use coffee/mealtimes as a way to spend quality time with friends and family, while also enjoying a nice hot beverage. We could also talk about my coffee consumption when it comes to finals week and deadlines, but maybe that’s something for another blog post!

Image Citations

Chung, I. (2010). Macbeth. [image] Available at: https://flic.kr/p/9czRu3 [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].


Gruber, J. (2014). Sunset over Shenandoah National Park. [image] Available at: https://flic.kr/p/pKp92t [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].


Keays, M. (2012). coffees. [image] Available at: https://flic.kr/p/dTyJuW [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].