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History conference remembers war

April 4, 2011

By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor

Several guest lectures for the conference were held in Wilson Lecture Hall. Photo by Nadia Dean

Last weekend, Young Harris College hosted a history conference featuring lectures from YHC professors, students and guest speakers from across the country and around the world. YHC faculty, students and community members attended the two-day conference entitled “Remembrances: Constructing Narratives of Wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

The conference, was inspired by a class called “Remembrances of the Great War (WWI)” offered this semester by Natalia Starostina, assistant professor of history.  The class offers a unique take on WWI by examining wartime narratives instead of the typical curriculum of dates and battles. Starostina, along with the rest of the history department, expanded on the idea with more YHC-grown ideas.

Starostina’s students from her “Remembrance” and “20th Century European History” courses even had their own session to discuss papers they had written.

“It’s wonderful.  It’s very rewarding, and I’m so excited for them.  They have been working very hard for this project,” Starostina said.

The art department chair Ted Whisenhunt also added an artistic touch to the conference by arranging a gallery of student artwork to be displayed in lobby of Goolsby Lecture Hall, with the art being war-inspired.

The speakers, who came from all over the globe, were attracted to the conference because the history department had thought outside the box, focusing on the cultural history of remembering war.

“It’s a much broader frame of reference than you usually find with anything involving war, and I think that’s why it kind of took off,” said Thomas Stearns, history department chair.

Among the countries represented at the conference were Russia, Israel, Iran and Turkey, each contributing different ideas  and perspectives.

Olivier Courteaux from Ryerson University of Canada, for example, discussed France’s take on D-Day during his lecture on French General Charles de Gaulle, a perspective that would not have been visited in an American classroom.

Topics discussed varied as extensively as the wars which were highlighted, including lectures ranging from “Cold War Rhetoric and the Formation of the Presbyterian Church in America” to “Ottoman Prisoners of War in Kharkiv Region and the Valki Incident.”

The audience, which nearly filled the Wilson Lecture Hall, seemed to be impressed by what the history department had put together.

“The conference was very informative and touched on a wide variety of historical events. It was a great experience and I am glad I attended,” said Judith Hall, a freshman from Dawsonville and student of Starostina.

The success of the conference is a testament to the history department and the college as a whole.

In its first year after creating the history major, the department put together a large-scale conference that Stearns said the conference took on a life of its own and became larger than the department originally expected. Stearns also mentioned that in hindsight, the department should have only attempted the conference about 10 years down the road.

Starostina began looking into hosting a conference last fall and sent in a proposal for funding. By January, the department was fine tuning all the details. Starostina sent information about the conference out to the scholarly community, and the lecturers came to them.

Stearns gives credit to Starostina’s enthusiasm, while she says it was truly a product of the entire history department. It is evident to both, however, that this conference and the process of putting it on, speaks highly of the college and what can be expected from the history program.

“We have a particularly energetic and ambitious faculty. In our very small department, I would say the energy level is very high and the creative, looking down the road experience is very, very much with us,” Stearns said.  “That’s a tremendous asset, not just with us but with the college. I think it says really good things about where we’re going in terms of scholarship and in terms of recognition by people elsewhere.” Starostina never had any doubt of the department and the college’s success in the planning of the conference, despite the brand new program.

The proof for her lies in the drive of the students, commitment of the faculty and the high standards of the institution.

“I do believe that Young Harris is a wonderful place and the faculty are very dedicated, sophisticated scholars,” said Starostina. “We are a fine institution, we have wonderful faculty, and talented students.  For me, how else could it be?”

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