Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Career as a Historian - Part Six

The 1994-95 academic year is what I refer to as my "First Senior Year." I ended up on the 5-year plan for reasons that will become obvious over the course of this post.

So I had decided to ditch the School of Ed. and pick up a double major in Geography. I embarked whole-heartedly on this in the Fall of 1994. I had all History and Geography (or related) courses this semester. In the History Department I had History of Germany, 1648-1890 with Dr. Mark Spaulding. Being of German descent, I had been chomping at the bit to take this class. Dr. Spaulding was known as a tough professor, and the class was pretty difficult, but I managed a B. I also had the ever popular Civil War and Reconstruction class, then taught by the aforementioned mentor, John Haley. This was not an easy class and I only got a B. However, my proudest moment of the semester was receiving an A on my term paper for the class, which Dr. Haley referred to as one of the most original Civil War papers a student of his had ever written. My topic was the formation of the state of West Virginia (for those that are unaware, the western counties of Virginia seceded from the state after the state seceded from the Union; Lincoln then supported their separate statehood, calling into question his views on the constitutionality of secession).

On the Geography side I took two intro courses, Economic Geography and Intro to Physical Geography. Intro to Physical was my least favorite of the geography courses, but I took it with an adjunct instructor, which made it a bit easier. The Economic Geography course was taught by now-retired Duncan Randall. He was a Wilmington native and the UNCW library was named for his father, so he was connected. He had studied at UNC-Chapel Hill and was a pure economic geographer, having written his dissertation on the economic geography of the Lower Cape Fear. Students feared him; his nickname was "Flunkin' Duncan" because so many people failed his classes. His office was dark and wreaked of smoke because he smoked like a chimney. I loved his class and did well (comparably), making a B. I used his dissertation as part of my thesis research in grad school. He retired the semester after I took his class and I feel lucky to have had him as a professor. I was also required to take a statistics course and quantitative analysis for my double major, so this semester I registered for the stat class. It was more than I could handle mathematically, so I withdrew. This left me in a quandary as to my decision to double major. I realized that stat and quant would be my downfall and decided it was best to back down to a minor in Geography (stat and quant were not required for the minor). However, I had now wasted so much time taking classes that wouldn't really count for anything that I realized it would take me an extra semester to graduate. Being young and stupid, I said "what the hell, I'll just take a whole extra year and have some fun!"

That fun began the following semester, Spring 1995. I had three History classes and retook a math class that I had earlier received a D in. I figured if I was in it for an extra year I might as well retake two classes and replace those D grades with better ones. I followed up my class with Dr. Spaulding by taking his next class, History of Germany, 1890-Present. I actually got an A- in that class, so I was making progress with him. Unfortunately, I negated that grade by getting a B- in History of the Caribbean. We had to take at least one "non-Western" history course, and I decided that this class would be more fun than an Asian or African history class. It was taught by a visiting professor from a university somewhere in the Caribbean. She and I didn't see eye to eye socially or politically and I pretty much blew off the class as a result. I'm probably lucky to have gotten a B-, as she could easily have given me a C. Finally, I was back with Frank Ainsley yet again to take a class that was cross-listed as both History and Geography, Historic Preservation Planning. This was a great class and probably got me started thinking about the public history field. I did my research project on preservation of covered bridges in Somerset County, PA. Me and my friend Glenn took a trek up to PA to visit my grandparents and one of their friends took us to every covered bridge in the county (and there are about 8 of them). This included a bridge that was being repaired and restored by Amish craftsmen (how's that for historic preservation in action)! One of these days I'll have to scan some of those photos and add them to this post. I easily got an A in this class.

I was now finally on track. I had one year left to figure out which direction I was headed, but I knew how I would finish this stage of the race. I would end up with a BA in History and a minor in Geography. From there, it was anyone's guess, but graduate school seemed like the ultimate goal. The only question was in which field, history, geography, or parks and recreation (still a possibility due to my involvement with campus rec and intramural sports)?

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