Anna Brooks Thomas
“The Twentieth Century Eugenics Movement and its Continuing Effect on Native Tribes of Virginia,” supervised by Dr. Heather Kopelson
The talk around history majors before taking 430 is that it is the absolute hardest class in our major and that it will take more time than anything else you do. I was even told to keep my other classes light to focus on 43o because it was going to be that tough. I decided to bite the bullet and enroll in 430 this spring because of the wide range of topics this semester. Native American History stood out among the other topics because I am a Virginian and have grown up learning about Pocahontas and the Powhatan Confederation in grade school. Through a little bit of looking here and there at different pieces, I came upon a letter written by a man named Walter Plecker, and after I read through his whole letter I looked at the list of names he attached that was called “Surnames, by Counties and Cities, of Mixed Negroid Virginia Families Striving to Pass as ‘Indian’ or ‘White’.”
My home county was on this list as well as names I recognized as the grandparents of friends from middle and high school. From there on I knew that I had to follow the Plecker story to see where it led. I wanted to see how Plecker’s time at the Bureau of Vital Statistics affect Native Americans at the time and how he continued to keep Powhatan Indians from achieving the recognition they deserved. Throughout my research, I was able to answer those questions as well as discovering just how much of a white supremacist and eugenics supporter Walter Plecker was in real life.
Throughout my time in HY 430, I realized the importance of the universities libraries and online resources. From the late nights in Gorgas on 2M in the very back stacks, to combing through the Native American research guide on the library website, the library is truly a student’s best friend and is not as scary as it seems. HY 430 is a class that we all have to take, and my advice would be to go ahead and do it, try not to put it off until your final semester.
When you’re looking through the topics, try to pick something that interests you otherwise you’ll have to write a long paper on a subject you do not enjoy.
“The Strategic Gendering of Elizabeth I’s Self-Representation,” supervised by Dr. Daniel Riches
Before enrolling into HY 430, most of what I had heard about the class had been warning advice. “It’s a lot of work so don’t take it your last semester,” “Choose a section on more modern history or else you won’t be able to find any sources,” and “Don’t procrastinate or you’ll just hurt yourself!” So, no surprise that I was pretty anxious for this course and expecting a tough semester. Keeping those snippets of advice in the back of my head, I enrolled in HY 430 my second to last semester, picked a section I figured wouldn’t be a burden in finding sources, and immediately got to work after the first class.
The HY 430 course I chose covered early modern Europe. Within that topic, my research focused on Elizabeth I and her self-representation. Over the semester, I discovered how complex Elizabeth’s self-representation was and how she strategically used gender as a tool for her image and agenda.
My experience in HY 430 lived up to my expectations but also left me with a few surprises. I can’t lie and say the semester wasn’t tough, but it was also one of my most rewarding semesters in college. The research process and the outcome of my paper left me with a sense of pride and the confidence that I could handle doing this at a graduate level.
To encourage those who haven’t taken HY 430 yet, I would say be prepared to work, but also know that you have the power to make this an enjoyable experience. Pick something that piques your interest. For me, that was an individual I already knew quite a bit about but was still interesting enough that I had the desire to delve deeper and learn more. On some days, it’s harder to find motivation than on others, but having a topic that kept me intrigued gave me the push to work and finish strong.
The keys to success for this course are to stay interested and stay focused because in the end, those feelings of pride and reward are worth all the hard work.
Supervised by Dr. Andrew Huebner
What had you heard about HY 430 before enrolling in it? What were your expectations?
Before enrolling in HY 430, I did not know much about the class. I knew that it was required for history majors, that it was a research class, and that it required a fifteen-page paper. I expected to be able to do research on a topic that interested me and that I had not had the opportunity to learn about in the other classes I had taken.
Why did you choose this particular HY 430 course?
I choose to take this particular HY 430 class because the topic I was interested in research fell under the scoop of the topic of the class.
What did you end up working on? What was your research question, and what did you discover?
I ended up researching southern culture and identity by looking at the two versions of the film Steel Magnolias. My question involved discovering how the different versions of the film portrayed southern womanhood and southern culture. I discovered more of the history of southern culture and the elements that comprise southern culture and identity. I discovered that both films portrayed southern womanhood and southern culture in almost identical ways, despite a twenty-year production gap and despite that one film featured an all-white cast, and the other film featured an all African American cast.
What did you learn from the course as a whole, apart from the details of your own research, about the challenges and rewards of historical research?
I learned how to search databases in the most effective ways. I learned how to evaluate and narrow my research questions and ideas and how to use effectively use a combination of primary and secondary sources. I also learned how exciting it is to find the perfect source after searching for several hours and how rewarding it is to see your research project all come together into one coherent document. It is really satisfying to produce a piece of work that started from your own idea and that you got to work on and develop into a full product.
What can you say to encourage those who have not yet taken HY 430? What do they have to look forward to?
HY 430 is not nearly as scary as it is made out to be. As long as you break up your research into pieces and are diligent about working on it, it comes together quite easily. It is exciting to be able to work on a project that is interesting to you and that you get to develop. You are able to control how much you learn about your topic, and it is extremely rewarding to see your hard work develop into a polished product.