Van Uden Wins Senior Major Award

Van Uden with St. Benedict

History major Kristen Van Uden graduated last week a proud member of the Class of 2016. She won the History Department Senior Major Award for her high GPA, engagement in multiple fields of history, and contributions to the discipline inside and outside the classroom. One Thing After Another asked her to reflect on her four years as a history major.

Q: What drew you to Saint Anselm College and led you to become a history major?

A: I entered Saint Anselm College undeclared, and was considering several humanities majors such as history, politics, English, etc. History truly encompasses all other fields: to understand a historical period in its fullness, you must take into consideration the period’s literature, economic trends, philosophical and theological trends, and, of course, political climate. The first history class I took as a freshman was Professor Dubrulle’s Modern Europe. One of the main ways we engaged with history was through literature and primary political sources, all against the philosophical background of the Enlightenment. I realized that studying history would fulfill my curiosity about all of these fields, and I couldn’t have made a better decision.

Q: How did you discover your love of the Russian language?

A: It was a very organic thing—I never rationalized it to myself. I was always fascinated by languages, and by the turbulent history of Russia. My interdisciplinary minor allowed me to take courses in Russian literature, politics, and history in addition to the language. I think a familiarity with the language let me engage more with these classes—for example, everything about Chechnya makes sense when you understand that Grozny, the name of its capital, means “terrible.” I even tried using a primary source in Russian for my thesis. Additionally, knowledge of Russian is especially relevant today. It’s a really fun, if difficult, language to learn, and since I have been studying Russian I’ve been compelled to study even more diverse languages—I’ve been studying Hebrew this year.

Q: We understand that a walking tour you designed is on sale at the Manchester Historic Association. How did that come about?

A: It originated as a project for Professor Salerno’s Applied History class designed to engage the students with public history in our surrounding community. Having grown up in Manchester, I had always wondered what the stories behind the city’s monuments were. Much of the information is available online or elsewhere, but I wanted to create a quick, accessible guide for anyone who wanted an introductory reference. I started the project hoping that only a few people would use it—and now they’re selling it at the Millyard Museum downtown! I hope people find it a helpful resource.

Q: You have also done other types of “public history” (history outside the classroom) during your four years. Could you tell us about your transcriptions for the New Hampshire Historical Society and your Oral Histories of Communism Project?

A: As part of my work as a research assistant, I transcribed a diary of an 18th/19th century farmer and potter from Concord, NH named Daniel Clark. His diary serves mainly as an almanac of the weather and a log of his work and sales, along with important family and community records detailing the timing of births, deaths, marriages, and so on. It has been a really interesting peek into the daily life and practices of the era. One thing that struck me was how hard Daniel had to work to keep up his business. I also loved reading entries about famous historic events—Daniel notes the elections of each new NH governor and mentions several battles of the War of 1812.

Doing this transcript prepared me for the transcripts I completed of my oral history interviews. I interviewed four individuals and will be interviewing at least one more this summer. My original goal was to gain skills in conducting oral histories while accruing knowledge about my topic: life under communism. My topic was soon broadened to stretch as far back as WWII because of the incredible people who were willing to speak with me. I was fascinated by the stories of these people and wanted to provide an outlet for them to share their family stories with a greater community. The interviews and transcripts will be archived at the New Hampshire Historical Society for research purposes.

In one interview, I talked to a 96-year-old gentleman who had been forced to join the Hungarian army as a chauffeur during WWII and then later rebuilt his life here in America. Connecting his personal story to research I had done helped me, of course, but I was also able to share information with him and his family that they didn’t know before—it was an educational experience both ways. Witnesses to historic events are indispensable primary sources, and the experiences and opinions shared with me have afforded me a fresh perspective on historic events. I have always loved reading memoirs, and to play an active role in helping others record their own sort of memoir was an unbelievable opportunity that I hope to continue with.

Q: You have really excelled in a wide variety of research in your history major. You did a senior thesis on King Michael’s 1944 Coup in Romania. Why did you choose that topic and what did you learn?

A: My senior thesis was entitled “Out of the Lager and Into the Gulag: Romanian Foreign Relations Before and After King Michael’s Coup.” The imagery I was going for with the title was that of a politically captive Romania, unable to make its own foreign policy decisions because of the overwhelming power of its neighbors, Nazi Germany and the USSR. I used Foreign Relations of the United States, a comprehensive collection published annually by the State Department comprised of correspondence between diplomats. I focused on the telegrams detailing the meetings between Romanian proponents of the coup and Allied representatives in Cairo during the summer of 1944. I traced the development of the offered armistice terms and came to the conclusion that King Michael’s coup, by which Romania transferred allegiance to the Allied side in August 1944, secured more favorable terms for Romania. The second part of my thesis focuses on how the Cold War took shape when the Soviets violated armistice terms in Romania.

My original interest in King Michael stemmed from my fascination with all of the overthrown monarchies of the 20th century. But, whereas King Peter of Yugoslavia sort of faded into the background, King Michael took an active role in the fate of his country. I was intrigued by the fact that he was so young (early 20’s) when he staged the coup, and that he is the last surviving sovereign leader from World War II—he’s still alive! Once I found FRUS, my thesis took on a more political tone. I loved analyzing the motives of the various leaders and the strategic importance of Romania to both sides during WWII. It is a country often forgotten in the history of the war, and I hope I was able to provide some new document analysis that fits into bigger historical patterns of the war. I presented my thesis at the regional Phi Alpha Theta conference last month at SUNY Plattsburgh, and it will be published on their Digital Commons for future research purposes.

Q: Given all those projects, it is hard to believe you had a lot of time for life beyond history! But we hear you were part of a music ensemble, and were also active in other offices on campus. Could you tell us more about these?

A: I was president of the Saint Anselm College Chamber Music Ensemble for my junior and senior years. We consisted of several flutes, cellos, and violins and held about 5-10 performances a year. I loved being able to play in the ensemble with other talented and passionate student musicians to create a truly unique product. We played a variety of classical and baroque music along with some traditional Celtic and some contemporary pieces. My favorite piece of ours is Balthasar Vilicus’s Concerto in G Major because as far as I know, no one else has played it in years—the only Vilicus sheet music readily available on the internet is a scan of one of his original compositions from the 17th century!
I was also an Admission Ambassador, a Peer Tutor, and member of the History Society.

Q: So what are your plans for post-graduation?

A: I am currently working at the Moffatt-Ladd House, the Portsmouth home of William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Prince Whipple and Winsor Moffatt, signers of the Petition of Freedom. I’ve learned a lot already, and it’s great to be able to incorporate local history into the national narratives that we all know. I have a few other applications out, and I am going to continue to work on my oral history project. The long-term goal is probably to go to grad school—I want to spend time further researching topics related to my thesis and oral history project—they are under-researched fields that I hope I can somehow contribute to.

Q: You seem to have really gotten a lot from your history major and your time on the Hilltop. Do you have any advice for current and future history majors?

A: Don’t be afraid to be curious and ask questions—that’s why I was a history major, because I wanted to know and understand as much as possible. Asking questions allows you to make deeper connections, and that’s what history is all about. Don’t put each class in a vacuum—make sure you connect the events and ideas you are studying to those of other classes. Not only will this help you take comps, but, with any luck and a lot of hard work, the world will make more sense than it did before.

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