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History scholar shares lessons learned on both coasts

July 30, 2007

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(Portland, Ore.)—Katie Hart, senior English and history double major, recently traveled to New York as part of the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Program. One of only 50 finalists nationwide, Katie spent a week in New York City with the program, which provides an opportunity for outstanding undergraduate students to engage in discussions with eminent scholars and in primary-source research. She spoke with us about the experience and her upcoming senior year when she returned.


How long have you been interested in history? Did you always know you wanted to study history in college, or did you gradually come to your major?
I’ve always been interested in history—and suffered through the AP American History exam to prove it—but I never actually thought I’d major in it. I was an English major until sophomore year, when Professor Jane Hunter explained to me why she’d chosen a history over an English major. She said, “English just seemed to be about tearing things apart, whereas history was about putting things together,” and that just made so much sense to me. So I added the history major, probably the same day—I can be a little overzealous at times—and now I think the two complement each other really well.

What about Lewis & Clark’s academics attracted you to the college?
Before I came to Lewis & Clark, I didn’t really look very long or hard at the academics. I was interested in studying abroad, so that program, along with being so close to Portland, was probably the main attraction at the time. It wasn’t until after I started studying here that I realized what an amazing opportunity the academics here present. I’ve been able to develop such great relationships with my professors and classmates, to the point where I really consider them my colleagues. I don’t know that I could have gotten that level of academic cooperation and camaraderie anywhere else.

What appeals to you about studying history? Do you have a specific area of interest?
This is so nerdy, but I really love the Gilded Age. I have visions of writing the definitive history of the period, with all its blatant corruption and “honest graft.” I find that blatancy refreshing, considering the current political climate. That’s what I really like about history: the comparisons and connections to be made between what you know and what otherwise could seem so foreign, so irrelevant. It’s all there, waiting to be put together.

What about the Gilder Lehrman Program inspired you to spend part of your summer doing schoolwork? What did you hope to gain from the experience?
I didn’t know anything about the program when I applied. Professor Hunter suggested I apply, as it would be a good opportunity. For what, I didn’t know—even when I got to New York, I still wasn’t sure what we would be doing. I guess I wanted to see what kinds of things real, live historians were doing, how they had made this passion that I shared into a viable, enjoyable livelihood. And secondly, I wanted to impress those real, live historians, maybe network a bit, make some friends in the business, that kind of thing. Really, though, I had no idea what I was doing.

What kinds of things did you do on the trip to New York? Was the program lecture-based, or did you get to interact with other students and historians?
Most of the week was spent in lecture, or touring various historically significant parts of Lower Manhattan. This year marks the bicentennial of the 1807 passage of legislation abolishing the international slave trade, so that was the topic we dealt with over the week. But during any free time, we could hang out, get to know each other and the city—it was really great to meet other people my age who share my love of history. We played a lot of history trivia…but I really shouldn’t admit to that.

What are you looking forward to about your senior year? Will anything you learned in New York help you in the coming year?
Well, I love to write, so I’m actually looking forward to my history thesis, for which I’m currently doing the research. One of the most interesting things to come out of the Gilder Lehrman program, for me, was this question: how much foresight should we, in hindsight, expect historical figures to have? If we have too few expectations, we insult the people we study, too many and we impose our privileged perspective upon them. It’s an interesting, touchy question that I hope I can keep in mind during my own research.

How has Lewis & Clark prepared you to enter the field you’re studying?
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing after graduation, but in a broad sense I think L&C has taught me how to explore all the various angles and interpretations of a topic before I commit myself to an opinion. Academically, that’s just responsible scholarship, and socially—well, it’s hard to avoid getting every angle of every issue just in quotidian conversation with the students here. I imagine that willingness to be informed will be valuable no matter what I end up doing.

What do you hope to do with your Lewis & Clark degree?

I’m really not sure. I would love to find something that would allow me to keep writing. My dream job has always been to write for Vanity Fair magazine, but journalism is so competitive. In a different direction, the Gilder Lehrman program and my own research have introduced me to the work archivists engage in, and that really appeals to me, as well. I think one of the best things about studying history is that it prepares you for a lot of different disciplines; it isn’t solipsistic. So let’s just say I’m keeping my options open.

For more information:

Emily Miller
Public Relations Coordinator
503-768-7960
emilymiller@lclark.edu