History students earn top undergraduate honors for their research papers

Two Chapman University history majors won the top undergraduate prizes at the 2017 Southern California Regional Phi Alpha Theta Conference held at California State University, Northridge on April 8.

Samantha Mast ’17 took first place with the Best Paper Award. Titled Marie Laveau’s Gumbo Ya-Ya: The Catholic Voodoo Queen and the Demonization of New Orleans Voodoo, Mast’s paper discusses the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and how she incorporated Catholic elements into the Louisiana Voodoo religions during her reign.

Inspired to write on this topic after taking a travel course in New Orleans with Julye Bidmead, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies,  Mast sought to debunk the stereotypes of Voodoo in her research paper.

“I saw the blending of Voodoo and Catholicism as something magical and enlightening … and I thought that writing my thesis on the subject would be a great way to dispel the rumors behind Voodoo and to demonstrate what it is actually about,” she said.

Amanda Larsh ’17 is the second place winner with the Runner Up Best Paper Award. Her paper titled Cry “Havoc!” and Let Slip the Dogs of War!: The Canine Experience in the A.E.F., explores how dogs were used by the American military in World War I as well as how humans returned the favor.

“After hearing (the dogs’ stories) and the way their men spoke about how these dogs were so important to their survival during the war, I knew I just had to do my thesis on this topic,” said Larsh.

For Mast and Larsh, their accomplishments come after a year and a half of research, and countless months of shifting through stacks of information to write a cohesive paper on their historical topic.

At Chapman, all history majors are required to write an approximately 50-page senior thesis and to participate in the annual Southern California Regional Phi Alpha Theta Conference. Students condense and modify their theses to 10 pages to submit to the conference, where they orally present their papers to a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. Winning participants receive a certificate and books provided by the national Phi Alpha Theta office as their prize.

A total of 11 schools participated in this year’s Southern California Regional Conference with Chapman winning both undergraduate prizes. Attending the Conference for more than 10 years to date, Chapman has won approximately three-fourths of all undergraduate prizes, said Leland Estes, Ph.D., associate professor of history at Chapman’s Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Phi Alpha Theta is an American honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history. The society has more than 350,000 members, with about 9,500 new members joining each year through 860 local chapters.

Display image at top/ Chapman University history majors and faculty at the Regional Southern California Phi Alpha Theta Conference held at California State University, Northridge on April 8. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Bay, associate professor of history)

Bethanie Le

Bethanie Le

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