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Student Wins Two History Research Fellowships

Leafing through yellowed documents in historical archives for information about insurance companies may sound like a dull summer activity to many, but for Alicia Maggard '10, it's a thrilling prospect.

That's because she'll be doing the research in some of the country's finest historical archives while rubbing elbows with well-recognized scholars - dream opportunities for the budding historian. The history and classical studies major won two prestigious national fellowships that will give her a firsthand look at a potential career and access to invaluable resources for her senior thesis research.

Maggard was one of 10 liberal arts students nationwide chosen for the SHEAR/Mellon Undergraduate Fellowship Program at the McNeil Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The program for rising seniors will allow Maggard to spend several weeks in Philadelphia working on her thesis research in American history archival collections.

Then she will head to New York as one of 15 Gilder Lehrman History Scholars. The program rewards undergraduates who have excellent research and writing skills in the field of American history. Maggard will work with unpublished primary sources from the Gilder Lehrman Collection to complete a research project on Abraham Lincoln. She also will participate in seminars led by historians and attend archivist-led tours of some of New York's best historical collections.

"I'm looking forward to honing my research and writing skills, but the best part about these fellowships is that I'll be getting a very real look at what it means to be a historian," Maggard says. "Not only will I be practicing using the tools and methods of a historian while in the archives, but I will also get to speak with a variety of historians and archivists about what they do for a living. I'm eager to learn more about the kinds of professions which I've become most interested in through my studies at Willamette."

For her history thesis, Maggard is researching the growth of insurance underwriting societies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and how they affected people's political philosophies, business dealings, gender identities and familial relations. She discovered her interest in the topic while working as a research assistant to Seth Cotlar, associate professor of history, during the summer after her freshman year.

"It was Professor Cotlar who suggested these fellowship programs to me and even helped me to define a research interest for my senior thesis," she says. "It's great to have so much support from my advisor. He's even giving up a week of his summer to participate with me in the SHEAR/Mellon program."

Maggard discovered her other major, classical studies, after taking Latin courses at Willamette. She spent the past semester studying abroad in Rome so she could tour the ancient sites she had been reading about in her classes. "I'm working on a project right now that looks at epigraphic evidence of trade guilds during the early empire," she says. "It holds a lot more meaning for me now that I have actually seen these inscriptions and even visited the sites of some of the warehouses mentioned therein."

Willamette's small liberal arts environment made Maggard a stronger applicant for the history fellowships, she says. "Both aim to facilitate high-level discussion among a small group of peers. In my applications, I was able to draw on my experiences at Willamette and stress how my liberal arts background and participation in small, discussion-based classes had really taught me the didactic value of peer discussion."