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History Honors Symposium 2020: A Virtual Celebration

On May 1, 2020, this year's Honors History cohort was supposed to gather in the Michigan League with friends, family, and faculty advisors to commemorate a remarkable occasion: the completion of their honors theses. Instead, we find ourselves online and socially distanced in all corners of the country (and beyond). We invite you to celebrate virtually. Link here to a visit U-M History's virtual Undergraduate Commencement webpage.

Welcome and Congratulations

James W. Cook

History Department Chair
Professor of History and American Studies



Pamela Ballinger

Honors Committee Chair
Professor of History, Fred Cuny Chair in the History of Human Rights

Announcement of Awards

Pamela Ballinger

Honors Committee Chair
Professor of History, Fred Cuny Chair in the History of Human Rights



2020 History Honors Students

Students were given the option to present a video about their thesis. Student videos are password protected.

Mary Catherine Basso

A Perilous Pursuit, Securing Power through Gender in Early Modern France

Advisor: Katherine French

Salic law declared women incapable of wielding power, yet French state policy in the sixteenth century was dominated by the wills of duchess Diane de Poitiers and queen Catherine de Médicis. These influential women experienced different levels of security in their positions of influence. To maintain their power, both women crafted gendered personas and manipulated prevalent gender norms through letter writing and visual sources. Through the use of norms related to motherhood, widowhood, and sexual purity, the women exerted influence on state policy from the rise of Henri II to throne in 1547 to the death Charles IX in 1574.

Riley Kate Branigan

The Law Is Not the Same at Morning and at Night: Analyzing Sex Work and Gender at the University of Oxford from 1840 to 1880

Advisor: Kali Israel

The Victorian British public was notorious for its disdain and obsession with everything licentious. The research that exists on prostitution in Britain from the nineteenth century to the present often focuses on the regulation of prostitution and public perceptions of it. However, when researching this topic, I hoped to discover other parts of the story.  The point of this thesis is to analyze commercial sex work involving female sex workers and male students at the University of Oxford from roughly 1840 to 1880.  I attempted to get closer to analyzing the experiences of the female sex workers than previous scholars have.

Zachary Philip Breininger

Cardinal Mercier and Belgium’s Just War: The Catholic Just War Tradition in the First World War

Advisor: Dario Gaggio

Amid the death and destruction of World War One stood a man who sought justice: Cardinal Mercier, prelate of Belgium. Spurred by the injustices inflicted on his beloved nation by the German Empire, Cardinal Mercier published a series of pastoral letters in which he used the language of the Catholic just war tradition and its precepts to inspire his fellow Belgians to continue fighting against their occupiers, and show the world that Belgium’s resistance embodied the justice the Catholic just war tradition sought to manifest. “Cardinal Mercier and Belgium's Just War” links Mercier’s wartime writings with the rich intellectual history of the Catholic just war tradition and connects the events of World War One to larger debates within the Catholic Church over the nature of warfare.

Noa Eaton

Menstruation in Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Laws, Medical Theory, and Autonomy

Advisor: Rachel Rafael Neis

My thesis examines ideas around menstruation and reproduction in late antiquity, specifically examining Jewish ritual purity laws as an access point to these themes. Purity laws in late antiquity can appear restrictive but I argue that they provided a degree of autonomy to the practicing women. Greco-Roman texts surrounding menstruation and forms of alternative medicine support the idea that Jewish women in late antiquity had more agency over their health then it initially seems.

Tom Flynn

We’re Going On a Holiday: An Intellectual History of Robert F. Williams (1959-1968)

Advisor: Stephen Berrey

Robert Williams was, in his time, one of the more prominent faces of the civil rights movement in the United States. A proponent for the use of armed self-defense in the context of civil rights activism, he was painted as a provocateur during the late 1950s and early 1960s. His exile in 1961 led him to Cuba, where he continued to advocate for civil rights and his political and social ideologies began to shift to the left. He then spent three years in the People's Republic of China from 1966 to 69, where he called for Marxist revolutionary action across the globe. Williams's political evolution from 1959 to 1968 illustrates the shift towards leftist political thought that occurred within the civil rights movement of the early 1960s and the Black Power movement of the late 60s and 1970s.

Sam Hugh Franz

Computers (May Not) Be Machines: Arthur W. Burks and the Logic of Computers Group

Advisor: John Carson, Henry M. Cowles 

What makes comparisons between computers and the brain so alluring? How did the computer figure into scientific research? Animated by these questions, this project explores the history of computing by way of Arthur W. Burks, a philosophy professor at Michigan, and his Logic of Computers Group from the 1950s until the 1970s. This thesis demonstrates that while visions of computers as abstract logic machines for studying reality took hold, the world itself (and the human brain) came to be seen in a similar light. When these visions faded, however, a more immanent, messy vision of computing replaced them.

Ryan William Herrmann

Religious Redemption in Michigan State Prison: The Evangelizing Mission of Chaplain Albert Merritt Ewert and His Subsequent Work Toward Michigan’s Corrections Law of 1937

Advisor: Susan Juster

This thesis explores the historical figure Albert Merritt Ewert and his work both as a chaplain at Michigan State Prison and as a state agent dedicated to penal reform. In particular, it examines Ewert’s emphasis on proselytizing prisoners and frames these efforts in the broader historical context of religious conversions in prisons, a process that continues to the present day. This paper asks how Ewert functioned within this religious model of more individualized examinations of criminality along with the social factors for which the Progressive Era advocated, revealing how these seemingly differing explanations could be used concurrently.

Samuel Nathan Kole

A History of a City, A History of a Man: An Analysis of the Life and Career of Carl Levin in Detroit

Advisor: Deborah Dash Moore

The thesis is an academic interpretation of the formative years of Carl Levin’s life and politics within the context of the history of Detroit, and the history of Jewish Detroit. It contains three chapters: The first, “A Jewish Detroit,” seeks to contextualize the antisemitism found in America, specifically in Detroit, before and during Levin’s childhood. The second, “Levin the Politician,” tells the story of Levin’s first campaign for elected office in 1969. The third, “Not Your Ordinary City Councilman,” traces Levin’s work in housing, education, and environmental policy as a member and then president of Detroit City Council (1970-1978).

Sydney Angel McKinstry

Acid and Scotch: The Northville State Psychiatric Hospital, 1952-2003

Advisor: Henry M. Cowles 

This thesis explores the lifespan of the Northville State Psychiatric Hospital from its opening in 1952 to its closing in 2003 and its eventual demolition in 2018. This fifty-year lifetime is not unusual—what made Northville stand out is when it lived. Through administrative records, newspaper articles, and correspondence between state officials, the hospital is reconstructed from the rubble to see what the hospital was like when it was open. This thesis tells the story of one community and its relationship with the mentally ill and how that relationship impacts the way mental illness is conceptualized today.

Molly Norris

Prison by Another Name: Repression and Reform in the Cook County Jail

Advisor: Heather Ann Thompson

The Cook County Jail looks, from the outside, like a state prison. With no apparent physical differences between the two institutions, Americans are hard pressed to understand the effects that this collective misunderstanding has had on the criminal justice system and American society as a whole. While prisons hold thousands of convicted criminals, the majority of people inside of jails are awaiting trial, not serving time. This thesis seeks to explain why jails and prisons in this country have been confused and conflated, and unpack the significance of this misunderstanding. By chronicling Cook County Jail’s history of abuse, neglect, and failed attempts at reform, this thesis will argue that the consequences of this misunderstanding have been dire, especially for minority and poor people who are arrested in this country. 

Isabel Katerina Olson

Dramatizing the Stanford Prison Experiment

Advisor: Matthew Lassiter 

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo became a landmark psychology study that defined how ordinary humans could carry out evil actions due to the systemic pressures of their environment. This thesis will first provide an essay which examines Zimbardo’s perpetuated narrative in the context of the archival records and participant’s firsthand accounts within the Philip G. Zimbardo Papers at Stanford University. By discovering the ways in which the guards and prisoners performed their roles and Zimbardo directed their behavior and dramatized the final results of the study, this thesis considers how the study was analogous to a theatrical improvisation. In the second part, the play Bright White Hell explores the study’s theatrical events in the framework of an improvisation that goes awry. 

Alexandra Paradowski

Commemorating Poland’s Monumental Past: Law and Justice’s Deployment of Polityka Historyczna through the Institute of National Remembrance

Advisor: Brian Porter-Szűcs

This thesis will explore politics of history (polityka historyczna) as disseminated by Poland’s current Law and Justice (PiS) government. It will argue that polityka historyczna has been at the core of PiS’s nationalist politics since it rose to power in 2005, after espousing a radical nationalist interpretation of recent Polish history. This allowed PiS to legitimize their anticommunist conspiracies surrounding contemporary Polish politics, and further implement policies which cement their ethnonationalist worldview. By weaponizing the Institute of National Remembrance with polityka historyczna, PiS is actively rewriting history to be more in line with its totalitarian, nationalist outlook, which accentuates Polish martyrdom and struggle for independence.

Audrey Pierce

The Language of Love: Constructing Pederastic Identity in the Ancient World

Advisor: Ian Moyer, Anna Bonnell Freidin

Deeply entrenched in ancient Greek culture, the pederastic relationship was a touchstone for sexual behavior and how the pederastic script was played out could have far-reaching implications for a man’s social status. This script was subject to constant redefinition by pederastic writers seeking to control the narrative, and this malleability bent the pederastic script to serve the interests of the erastes. This active construction of the norms and meanings of pederastic practices made pederasty within our literary sources into a discourse on power for both Greeks and, at a later time, elite Romans, rather than a static practice.

Jon Michael Reid

A Break from Tradition: American Unrestricted Submarine Warfare in WWII

Advisor: Jonathan Marwil

On December 7, 1941, American submarine commanders received the order to execute unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan. In violation of international law and the US Navy’s own governing manual, these men waged a form of warfare antithetical to American principles like the freedom of the seas. During the war, American submarine commanders expressed varying levels of support for this policy, and each man implemented unrestricted submarine warfare differently. After outlining the development of this policy, “A Break from Tradition” analyzes how nineteen American submarine commanders interpreted and executed the order. In doing so, this thesis uncovers the wide array of attitudes these men had about the policy.

Michael Russo

“A New Chapter of Engagement”: Case Studies of United States Foreign Policy and Human Rights in Central America

Advisor: Sueann Caulfield 

This thesis highlights two histories of United States foreign policy in Central America. From the early Cold War to the present, a strand of US foreign policy has consistently privileged authoritarian regimes in the region at the expense of democratic governance and individual human rights. These historical antecedents have sustained decades of violence and instability in Central America, contributing to one of the most significant mass migrations of the twenty-first century. This thesis underscores the effects of United States liberal imperialism, and how the outcomes of interventionist foreign policy beget cycles of displacement, violence, and violations of fundamental human rights.  

Jared Schacter

The City That Always Eats: The History of Fine Dining in New York City, 1980 until 2010

Advisor: Ian Shin

“The City That Always Eats” investigates fine dining in America's grandest city from a variety of angles to answer the who, what, how, and why. In doing this, the term fine dining is disentangled from haute cuisine, and a historical narrative of New York City's culinary past is provided. A story which will make you hungry for more, this thesis brings readers into the world of fine dining in New York City, showing its multiple facets, and empowering the readers as consumers and critics alike.

Liyuan (Amanda) Zhang

A Dissonant Unity: Voices of Reformism in the Algerian War of Independence

Advisor: Joshua Cole 

The second year of the Algerian War, 1955, witnessed an escalation of violence. Yet, before the conflict devolved into an all-out war, some believed that socioeconomic and political reforms could lead to a peaceful resolution. Following three distinct voices of reformism, this study investigates their motivations and propositions to understand why they ultimately failed. This thesis finds that, while all three attempted to find a nonviolent resolution, they differed in their diagnoses of the most immediate problems, their recommended remedies, and their visions for future Franco-Algerian relations. This divergence ultimately rendered them an incoherent force and corrupted their defense against extremism.