History honor society gathers at McDaniel to share passion for the past

Photo of McDaniel College History professor Stephen Feeley with senior Josh Irvin
April 09, 2018

Nearly 100 history scholars — students and professors alike — from a dozen colleges and universities gathered at McDaniel in late March to present their work during the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society Mid-Atlantic regional conference.

As always, McDaniel senior Josh Irvin welcomed the opportunity to meet and talk with people who share his passion for history. But this conference took on a slightly different aspect — Irvin was in charge, organizing it with support from History department chair and Phi Alpha Theta advisor Stephen Feeley and academic secretary Terrie Ottomano.

“I wasn’t brand new to event planning since I’ve always helped out at my church,” says Irvin, a History major from Littlestown, Pa., who just accepted a full scholarship and stipend to pursue his doctorate at George Washington University. “The hardest part was figuring out categories and grouping the papers.”

With 46 papers submitted for presentation, Irvin spent most of his spring break looking for trends and categorizing topics.

“The trends were easy to spot in probably 75 percent of the papers — but I found that the ‘where do you go?’ question was elusive for 10 to 12 of them,” Irvin says, adding that it was a big year for papers centered on civil liberty.

In the end, Irvin managed to create and sort the papers into 14 categories or panels at the conference, including Legacy of the Iron Curtain, Origins in Antiquity, Ashes and Embers (Civil War), Flotsam of Nations, China in a Modern World, Redefining the Past and, Irvin’s historical focus, Out of Indian Country. Professors served as commentators for each session and the keynote speaker after lunch was Lillian Cunningham, the creator and host of the “Presidential” and “Constitutional” podcasts at The Washington Post.

Nine McDaniel students presented their work:

Sarah Biddinger of Westminster, Md., presented “The God Fearing Settlers of Jamestown: Efforts to Convert the Powhatans 1606-1623.”

Katie Creveling of Edgewater, Md., presented “The Catholic Church's Midwife-Witch of Early Modern Europe.”

Henry Duncan of Arlington, Va., presented “‘What’s the News in Harpers Ferry?’ An Examination on John Brown and His Raid on Harpers Ferry.”

Josh Irvin of Littlestown, Pa., presented “‘I Fear His Attachments to the Place of Nativity’: The Sale of Indian Woods and Tuscarora Autonomy Within Federal Indian Policy, 1801-1831.”

Alisha Kehs of Bernville, Pa., presented “Tragic Wives: Agency and Gender Roles in Classical Athens.”

Kyle Parks of Wilmington, Del., presented “The Humble Iron Painter: Literati Representations of Tang Peng and Tiehua in the Qing Dynasty.”  

Zachary Patchell of San Francisco, Calif., presented “Changing Interpretations of the Spanish American War.”

Zachary Sheaffer of Hanover, Pa., presented “‘Only the mistakes have been mine.’ The Development of the Uncompromising Vision of Malcolm X after his Divorce from the Nation of Islam.”

Cathryn Smith of Silver Spring, Md., presented “Choice-less Choices: Grey Rape and Slave Women’s Autonomy in the Antebellum South.”

The mission of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society is “to promote the study of history through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians.” 

To be eligible for the honor society, students at McDaniel must be nominated and selected by faculty of the History department, as well as complete a minimum of four courses in history, achieve a minimum overall GPA of 3.0, achieve a minimum GPA of 3.1 in history courses taken at McDaniel, and must be in the top 35 percent of their class. Stephen Feeley, associate professor and chair of the History department at McDaniel, is the advisor. 

McDaniel College senior Josh Irvin (right) discusses plans for the Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society Mid-Atlantic regional conference with History professor Stephen Feeley.