History students organize research conference

“Ethnic Discrimination in Ptolemaic Egypt”, “The German-Jewish Community’s Reaction to the Third Reich”, “Origins and Scope of Fascism in Depression Era Canada” – these sound like the titles of research papers that might be presented by faculty members at an academic conference, but they were papers presented by undergraduate history students at an all-day conference held at York University on Saturday, Jan. 23, titled Traces of the Past: A Vision of History’s Future.

Organized by the Undergraduate History Students Association, the conference was the result of hard work and planning put in by a group of students eager to showcase undergraduate research. Typically, conferences of this nature are not held at the undergraduate level. The organizers – Stacey Costa, Megan Houston, Jesse Fleming, Garry Smolyansky and Kali Petropoulos – thought that it might be a good way for students to get a taste of what academia might be like for those who venture beyond their undergraduate program.

Left: From left, conference participants Amanda Occihone (York University), Caitlin Dyer (McMaster University) and Vincent Puhakka (York University)

“As someone who plans to pursue graduate studies, this was a fantastic experience,” says Petropoulos, who presented a paper called “Young Women and the Permissive Society, 1955-1968”. “Academic conferences are rare at the undergraduate level. This was a good forum in which to hone my presentation skills and to hear about the kind of research papers some of my peers have been working on.”

Students presented on topics covering ancient Egypt and thematic areas in European, British, Canadian, African, Latin American, Caribbean and American history. Though the presentations differed greatly in content, common threads – for example, issues of identity, loss and resistance – seemed to weave throughout the course of the day.

“It was clear that the students grouped the presentations carefully,” said Professor Jonathan Edmondson, chair of the Department of History. “This was an impressive, well-organized event. I am pleased to hear the students association plans to make it an annual one. On behalf of the department, I extend my sincere congratulations to those who presented and to the key organizers for a job well done.”

Right: Fourth-year York student Amanda Occhione delivers her paper

Over lunch, Canadian historian Mark Moss (BA Comb. Hons. ’85, MES ’90) gave a keynote presentation that challenged conference attendees to question the nature of how history is recorded and presented. He focused on the ways in which technology is changing history and the diverse methodologies new generations of historians are using to conduct their research.

A question-and-answer period followed the presentations and sparked in-depth discussions that provided students with new ideas and insight to help further their research.

“Thanks to the excitement and participation of our panellists, it was a successful event,” says Houston. “They each presented something that was interesting and thought-provoking; their presentations generated a lot of questions and conversation.”

Some of the students’ presentations are now available online. For more information, e-mail the Undergraduate History Students Association at uhsa.york@gmail.com.