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History Has Its Eyes on SCU

SCU’s “Historical Perspectives” has won the nation’s top undergraduate history journal prize two years in a row. Is a third win around the corner?
May 24, 2023
By Nicole Calande
Two outstretched hands hold a copy of the
| Photo by Matt Morgan

“Tradition Shattered.”

These infamous words first appeared as the front-page headline of the March 22, 1961 edition of the student newspaper after Santa Clara University made the decision to admit female undergraduates.

But for all their bluster, these words were just that—words. A historian’s job is to go beyond the headlines to understand how these moments were actually experienced by the people who lived through them.

Take for instance this year’s issue of Historical Perspectives—the SCU history department’s award-winning, undergraduate student research journal. The lead article, written by Hannah Hagen ’23, cites SCU yearbooks and scrapbooks put together by then-Director of Women’s Athletics, Marygrace Colby to create a holistic picture of the triumphs and tribulations of these early women students—a picture that may have been incomplete if Hagen had only considered sources like the male-dominated student newspaper.

This level of nuance and breadth of scope in scholarship is apparent across the pages of Historical Perspectives, says student editor Bianca Romero ’23. Other articles in the recent edition considered complex topics like Black midwives in the 20th-century South, gender-swapped comic book superheroes, and sexual politics in the Cold War. For Romero, historical topics like these help inform present-day events, from the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to even the inauguration of SCU’s first female president.

“We’re at a school with large business and engineering schools, so people might not be thinking about humanities,” she says. “But while our history department is small, this journal demonstrates how strong it is and what a good job it does in creating a lot of really well-trained historians.”

And highly decorated ones, too. For the authors of these articles, having one’s work featured in Historical Perspectives doesn’t just demonstrate their academic prowess. It also comes with a lot of prestige. The 2021 issue was recently awarded first place in the national competition for the Gerald B. Nash Journal Award given out by Phi Alpha Theta—the national history honor society. It was the second year in a row that the journal won first place, and it is the fifth year that it’s placed in the top three.

“History is so often underappreciated because it can be hard to showcase,” notes fellow editor Sean Chamberlain ’23. “So, it's a really great thing for students to be able to get published in such a high-caliber journal at the undergraduate level—even at the graduate level, that's considered an accomplishment.” Chamberlain was recently accepted into the UC Davis School of Law, and he feels his involvement both as an editor and contributor of Historical Perspectives helped his resume stand out.

As the most recent editors of this academic gem, he and Romero—with the support of faculty advisor Professor Naomi Andrews—reviewed student submissions covering over 2,000 years of history from multiple continents and a variety of viewpoints. The resulting edition features 10 academic articles, one book review, and—in a first for the journal—a piece of historic fiction written by last year’s editor Sophie Wink ’22, an addition that Romero and Chamberlain believe exemplifies the unique vantage point of the publication.

The short story “The Girl” follows the life of a woman who was forcibly sterilized by the state as a young, unwed mother. It’s a harrowing read, but by leaning into Wink’s historical research for her thesis, the story gives a voice and name to the many women who might otherwise remain a historical statistic or footnote.

Characters from the film

Marie Antoinette, Columbia Pictures

With fiction now on the table, the editors are eager to see the journal grow to include even more transformative pieces, including work from non-history majors. Perhaps, Romero muses, future issues might include an analysis of the costumes in the film Marie Antoinette or a video game review exploring the historical accuracy of weapons featured in “Assassins Creed.”

According to Chamberlain, that creativity is what will define Historical Perspectives for the next generation of SCU scholars. “We want to keep innovating so we can continue to be at the forefront of undergrad journals, and part of that is developing a journal with an even richer history and a wider breadth of research from a more diverse group of students here at SCU.”

And with its range of interdisciplinary classes that touch on diverse issues across history, Romero is confident that Santa Clara will continue to equip all its students, not just history majors, with the skills and abilities to gain an appreciation for the subject—which she believes is key to making more engaged global citizens.

“We’re living through a lot of historical events,” she says. “I find a lot of comfort and wisdom in knowing how we got here, what’s already been done, and what can be done in the future.”