History Department featured at American Historical Association meeting

Roanoke is one of 10 institutions highlighted in a video series at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting.

Salem, Va. - A video of the Roanoke College History Department was featured at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting in Chicago in January, along with videos of institutions such as the Smithsonian, Seton Hall University, West Point, University of Southern California, Rice University and the University of Utah.

In all, 10 institutions were featured in videos that ran throughout the 126th annual gathering of 4,700 historians Jan. 5-8.

Each year, the AHA videos feature institutions that have distinguished themselves through their history departments or historical research. Roanoke's History Department has distinguished itself on several fronts:

  • History majors have comprised the largest percentage of graduates per year over the past five to 10 years.
  • The number of department tenure-track positions has grown from seven to 12 within eight years.
  • The department continues to garner interest as it emphasizes student research, internships and study abroad programs.
  • The department has specialists in East Asia, Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe and America.

As Dr. John Selby, John R. Turbyfill Professor of History, said of the AHA honor, "Anytime Roanoke College is grouped with [West Point] or Rice, we can feel good."

Dr. Whitney Leeson, History Department chair, said the national exposure the video will give the College is probably the "biggest positive." During the conference, Dr. Mark Miller and several of the other six History Department faculty members who attended the conference, were also interviewing candidates for two department positions. When Miller mentioned to the candidates that Roanoke College was featured in one of the videos, "they were instantly excited to hear about it," he said.

"They would have to recognize that Roanoke was doing something great to be in that group, and it gives us a competitive edge on the job market scene," Miller said.

Leeson also pointed out that it will be a boost with student recruitment. Her hope is that more high school students will see the video, which will be distributed nationally as well as featured on the Roanoke College website. She said that despite "bold measures" such as collaborative learning and student research, the department hadn't received the public recognition she felt it deserved.

One of the more notable measures is that the History Department is working across the disciplines. For example, the Hispanic/Latin American and Caribbean Studies concentration involves the Foreign Language, Sociology, History, Public Affairs, Business, and English departments. Recent internships include work at the Virginia Transportation Museum, the Smithsonian, National Park Service and Center in the Square.

Miller, David F. Bittle Historian and professor of history, found the video reaffirming.

"We were all flattered and impressed...to be in that situation," he said. "You do want to know that you are doing something right. We have individual successes, but this is very unusual for a department. You don't know how you stack up against the outside world."

He described the College's history professors as energetic, dynamic, and on top of their game. "As a result, student enrollment has skyrocketed. We were positioned to hit the gas."

And so they have. Assistant Professor Ivonne Wallace Fuentes said the American Historical Association was impressed by the quality of the undergraduate education and the History Department's recent growth. Creative plans in the department include training within the growing field of public history.

"We are a successful major, not just because of the quality of our classroom teaching, but also because we work hard to create an active and exciting co-curricular component to our major," Wallace Fuentes said.

Miller said public history is a way of viewing history in practical terms. Wallace Fuentes added that studying history is an excellent preparation for life after college because it stresses how to read, think, write and speak critically.

The video features interviews with students and history professors who talk about what they learn and teach - the physicality of history, said John Selby; the opportunity to engage the world as a global citizen, said Wallace Fuentes.

"It is our job to give students tools they need to take history into the public areas of our lives," said Leeson. The passion, the commitment, the mission and the drive that are evident to students of history at Roanoke College can now be viewed on a wider scale, as the video is broadly disseminated - among high schools, alumni and students on campus.

The video caught "the zeitgeist of the department," Selby said. "It will provide a great snapshot of the department - and its goals, its atmosphere and its promise."

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as the 18th most beautiful campus in its "Best 376 Colleges" 2012 guidebook.

Released: February 7, 2012
Contact Name: (540) 375-2282
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2282
Contact Email: gereaux@roanoke.edu