The Second Annual History Career Day

by Andrea L. Spencer (@__aerdna___)

On Friday, February 8th, 2019, the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest sponsored its second annual History Career Day.

The day began with a presentation by Emily Swafford, Director of Academic and Professional Affairs at the American Historical Association. Swafford acknowledged that it can be hard to explain what you learn in a history degree and articulate the skills you learned that can help you get a job. Swafford assuaged fears of not getting a job or not making money with statistics that the AHA collects. Swafford also focused on how to articulate the “soft skills” historians have into words and phrases employers want to hear. For example, history majors learn how change happens, how to find, process, and communicate information that is new to them, and how to make judgements and evaluations on complex issues.

After Dr. Swafford’s presentation, the Lepage Center provided lunch and an hour for attendees to informally network and she their experiences as history students–both undergraduate and graduate.

After lunch was a panel made up of 3 Villanova history alumni–Mark Kehres, Kathryn Szumanski, and Alain Duroseau–and moderated by Dr. Paul Steege. Each panelist described their career paths after Villanova and how their history degree helped them get where they are today.An audience member asked the panelists how their skills as a historian translate to their day-to-day job responsibilities. Duroseau replied that being a historian teaches you to be able to make an argument and support it convincingly, which is important in any job. Szumanski said that the most valuable skill she learned was how to put everything in context, which means learning from and understanding the past and how that informs present and future projects. Kehres believed that the most important skill he learned was clear and concise communication.

When asked specifically about applying to jobs, the panelists offered three main pieces of advice:

  1. Apply to any job within your interests. Many employers are interested in having all majors apply. They want diversity and creative thinking.
  2. Focus your job search by industry and then see how your skills apply.
  3. Know that, as a history major, you learn how to think about the world, how to problems solve, and how to communicate solutions.

The final session of the day was a workshop by Jhaakira Jacobs, the Assistant Director of Career Development at Villanova’s Career Center. Jacobs primary focused on how to write a great cover letter. Her advice was:

  • Begin with an intro paragraph about how you heard about the position. This is a good place for name-dropping any connections you have to the company.
    • Tell the reader why this organization appeals to you. Do your research, and decide if the company aligns with your values and interests.
  • In the second paragraph, pull from the transferable skills you learned in the classroom, from your research paper, and your presentations.
    • Here, you should mention 2-3 qualifications/experiences, what you took away from them, and how that is applicable to this organization.
  • In the third paragraph, you want to reiterate your interests and tell them you will follow up soon.

Jacobs also said to follow up on a job posting 2 weeks after the close date. If you are struggling to describe yourself in your cover letter, get feedback from supervisors and professors about your strengths and talents. When writing your letter, a good way to start is to pick out the key words in the post and brainstorm how you are qualified for them.

All in all, it was a successful and informative day that left attendees feeling positive about their position as job candidates after graduation. The Lepage Center always welcomes feedback on all its events, so please drop by SAC 410 or email with your comments!



If you want to learn more about getting a job as a history major, here are some sites to check out:


Histories of Democracy Pt 2: Global Perspectives – Revolutions and Empire (Roundtable and Q&A)

(All pictures taken from the Lepage Center website)

On November 12, 2018, the Lepage Center continued the conversation about perspectives on democracy, hosting scholars from across the country who study the emergence of representative government across the world. In the first part of our coverage, we recapped the introductory statements. Here we will summarize some of the cross-talk and the question-and-answer portion of the event.

To begin with, Dr. Feinberg rejected the idea of graduating to democracy, quoting Vaclav Havel – a Soviet-era dissident and then the Czech Republic’s first president. In an address to the U.S. Congress he made in 1990, he said, “as long as people are people, democracy in the full sense of the word will always remain an ideal. One may approach democracy as one would a horizon, in ways that may be better or worse, but which can never fully be attained. In this sense, you too are only approaching democracy.” Democracy is a process which pushes us toward further questions of representation.

Ms. Ortashvili agreed with contesting the idea of that graduation. She said this idea fermented a lot of cynicism in post-Soviet countries where they face new issues for which they are unprepared and unwarned, and that this explains some of the regression in places like Hungary and Poland. There continues to be an aspirational character to EU and NATO membership for countries like Ukraine, but that when you receive the protections involved there remains the question of whether the grass is truly greener. The alternative, though, remains Russian dominance.

This brought Dr. Steege to ask about how possibilities are limited in the creation of and participation in a state. Dr. Gaffield pointed to a racialized concept of civilization in the nineteenth century which precluded the early-twentieth century idea of ‘modernization’ or this late twentieth/early twenty-first century idea of ‘graduation.’ Elites in major powers questioned the ability of Haiti’s population to self-govern, just as they would later question the ability of the citizens in post-colonial states and sometimes post-Soviet countries. Dr. Abugideiri addressed the issue that our inability to conceive of Islamism as something neutral or positive as opposed to collapsing it into “terrorism” excludes people from politics and creates the opportunity or space for radicalism. [1]

Dr. Feinberg pointed out our predisposition in the West to presume that democracy is what every person, place, and nation-state necessarily aspires to limits our understanding of global political plurality. There are places that have advanced and progressed without assuming American political ideals. She also said that there is an institutional inability for theoretical democracy to take emotion into account, and that a lot of conflicts arise from the emotional human urge to run over the rules of democracy to expedite individual wants. Dr. Gaffield pointed-out how the Haitian case, the common dependence on family and community socioeconomic systems was seen as hazardous to the state. The emphasis on individualism which is championed in democracy has an opportunity to be destructive because of the way it can be used to disrupt nongovernmental support systems.


Ms. Ortashvili said that the dark side of democracy is that it is a menu – all post-Soviet states claim to be democracies in the words of their constitutions, but they are all varying levels of authoritarian. They create “managed democracies” which coerce popular choice through limiting the freedom and fairness of elections as well as limiting the possible entrants. Dr. Feinberg said that the people of Czechoslovakia in 1989 wanted democracy as well as socialism – which is in stark opposition to the Western imagination which ties democracy to capitalism. Dr. Feinberg was observing that some of the cynicism in post-Soviet states toward democracy has to do with the way in which people like the citizens of the former Czechoslovakia were force-fed capitalism alongside the representative government they wanted. Much as the manipulation of the democratic menu to grant legitimacy to authoritarian states is a dark side of democracy, so is its association with economic systems which do not fulfill everyone’s needs.

Dr. Abugideiri pointed-out that government and scholarly discussions of the Middle East often address the region with a problematic lack of understanding for the diverse people, cultures, and political histories of the spaces. The upside for the people there tends to be that democracy is often understood as a utilitarian facility for creating economic opportunity. It is just not necessarily romanticized ideals.

Dr. Gaffield tied Haiti in to this story of misunderstanding by arguing that Haiti’s revolution has long been panned as a failure and deprived of meaning. Dr. Feinberg posited that the portrayal of history is relative to the agendas of governments to perpetuating a certain narrative, philosophy and ideology, something contemporary historians – and probably most people that think about society – always have in mind.

The crowd question-and-answer session began with an audience member asking about the compatibility nationalism has or lacks with democracy. Dr. Feinberg explained that the basic tension is that nationalism is inherently exclusive while democracy is ideally inclusive. She and Ms. Ortashvili both expressed the issues of ethnic tensions in diverse spaces, a common problem among imperialized or post-imperial spaces. Dr. Feinberg pointed-out that Czechs have a tendency to see democracy as an inherent cultural trait but in so doing they gloss over minorities like Hungarians and Germans in their country, and sometimes they benevolently incorporate these groups but sometimes it leads to repression. Ms. Ortashvili said that “nationalism” for her elicited thoughts of civil wars and lack of compromise. In Eastern Europe and Central Eurasia this is often a case of people living within territories of disputed national ownership for three decades. Dr. Feinberg saw it as representative of the tension between the needs of the state and the needs of the individual, and nationalism as a way to promote state needs over individual needs when using the rhetoric and practice of competition between nations.

Dr. Steege asked Dr. Abugideiri about the way that nationalism fit into the democratic dream in post-Ottoman states in the Interwar period. Dr. Abugideiri discussed the emergence of nationalism in the early twentieth century as utile for resistance to imperial power, and the curiosity of nationalists claiming secular nationalist democracy as a philosophical rallying point considering the point of contact for people of the Middle East with western democracy would have largely come in a non-democratic, imperialist expression. These people were in turn able to use western imperialism as a point of distinction for reimagining democracy.



A student in the crowd asked about the necessity of the state in democracy and the philosophical tradition of the state as a perpetuator of inequality and oppression. He asked if it were possible or advisable for the state be shorn from democracy, and what happens when it is? Dr. Abugideiri answered this by pointing to radical Islamists, some of whom do not necessarily see the world in terms of nation-states so much as a space for a Caliphate, a pan-Islamic empire. She pointed back to the idea that there might be people in the world that do not preconceive that American/Western liberal democratic ideals are something aspire to. Dr. Steege pointed to the way that non-state actors in Haiti were critical to the independence movement there, where Dr. Gaffield pointed to the myth of Haiti being completely isolated until the country was acknowledge by France.

Dr. Gaffield said that de facto recognition of the country came through legal and illegal trade with trades from other countries – naming the Dutch and Danish empires, Britain, and the United States – before the formal recognition by the French. These mercantilists were in fact also petitioning their governments to recognize the country for their own business endeavors, informally engaging in a non-political or semi-political state-building project; they were “unofficial consuls.” Dr. Feinberg concluded that, as the first president of Czechoslovakia (Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk) said, it is the duty of the true democrat not to act democratically only in parliament, but in everyday life because democracy is not just a form of government but a way of life. The onus for maintaining democracy rests with everyone, all of us whom have the responsibility of creating a truly democratic society.

Video of the event:


[1] There was a question I wanted to ask but did not have the chance to: Christianity is seen so often as essential to the American character, so why do we have a tendency to exclude Islam from the political conversation? Moreover, in Eastern Europe and Central Eurasia, is there a parallel to the hold of religion on politics? I think the ongoing Moscow-Constantinople schism speaks to this issue somewhat.

Histories of Democracy Pt 2 – Global Perspectives: Revolutions and Empires (Opening Statements)

(All photos from the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest website)

On November 12, the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest had the second part of its Histories of Democracy event, in Driscoll Hall Auditorium. Moderated by Dr. Paul Steege, the Lepage Center’s Faculty Director, the panel featured our own Dr. Hibba Abugideiri, who specializes in the experience of women in medicine in early-20th century Egypt specifically and imperialism and nationalism in the Middle East more broadly; Dr. Melissa Feinberg from Rutgers, who studies communism and post communism, especially in the former Czechoslovakia, as well as emotion in politics and the history of feminism; Dr. Julia Gaffield from Georgia State, who focuses on the Haitian Revolution and the history of early Haitian democracy; and Maia Ortashvili, who works on democracy in the former Soviet Union as the Deputy Director of the Eurasia Program for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Dr. Steege started-off the talk by discussing the 100th anniversary of German democracy, with the establishment of the Weimar Republic on Nov. 9, 1918, followed four years later by Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, and commemorated seventy-one years later with the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He stoked the introductions by asking the panel and the audience to consider democracy as an evolving, contested process; not just something exported from the United States, but something imported or synthesized contextually.

With that, he turned to Dr. Gaffield, to preview what Haiti can teach us about democracy. She said that she uses her research to analyze democratic innovation at the state and local level in Haiti, rather than just looking at despotism and totalitarianism in the nineteenth and twentieth century. She raised the philosophical quandary of an ongoing struggle at the center of democracy – the state against the nation – and explained that the essential composure of the republic is found in the contest between group and individual needs. Dr. Gaffield argued that the Haitian conception of the border certainly has relevance to contemporary US conversations about democracy. Haitian restrictions on white land ownership, as well as the porousness of the border which encouraged the migration of dispossessed people, send contrasting messages when held against the idea of who belongs in this historical moment.


Dr. Gaffield argued that Haiti stands out because it was the second independent state in the hemisphere, but it was the first where abolition was the driving force for independence. Abolition in Haiti unfortunately did not equate to freedom the way that individuals had hoped for. The needs of the state to protect the lives of the property of the citizenry stressed the creation and maintenance of capital through an export economy. In order to secure freedom in the sense of abolition, there was a restriction of freedom as the independence of human beings over their own movement and choices.

Dr. Feinberg said that her research focused on the interwar period in Czechslovakia … Democracy in Czechslovakia was not killed by Nazi Germany but was instead killed by authoritarian/authoritative democracy which wanted to cohabitate with Nazi Germany while still holding onto democracy as part of its heritage – it was “democracy only in name.” In 1918, the Czechslovakian government formally equate women with men to symbolize equality and progress and move away from the Hapsburg dynasty. Women’s suffrage passes the legislature unanimously and the legislature states that “the law shall not recognize privilege of sex,” but institutionalized patriarchal sexism and discrimination does not have to be written down in order for the status quo to be maintained.


Dr. Steege used this part of the discussion as a pivot into Dr. Abugideiri’s opening statement – asking who is allowed to be involved in the discussion. Dr. Abugideiri went on to ask discuss gender and citizenship in the Middle East. The Middle East itself is not an objective geographic entity – it is one shaped by external forces, global development, and internal disputes. She pointed out that the early twentieth century saw the fruits of the labors of democracy in Europe, specifically Great Britain and France, resulted in opposition by those states to the forces of democracy in other places, especially the Middle East. The Cold War saw the entrenchment and institutionalization of authoritarianism in Middle Eastern powers, including radical attempts at democratization in Iran and Egypt, and a constitutional crisis in Egypt in the interwar period.

The rise of the U.S. as the sole superpower was refracted throughout the Middle East as U.S. interest in oil, Israel, and arms sales created complexities and contradictions – the U.S. helped prop-up authoritarian regimes in both Iran and Egypt. Islamism emerged as a political force in the 1930s, initially it was anti-authoritarian while attempting to create theocracy, whereas in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first it has been conceived of as more strict and conservative. Dr. Abugideiri argued that the U.S. does not support the liberals or the radicals in the Middle East, that after the Arab Spring our government has supported new authoritarians. Perhaps this is because the order they impose serves economic interests in this country. In any case, Dr. Aubgideiri concluded by discussing how the interaction of global and internal dynamics has complicated the question of citizenship in the Middle East, noting especially that the introduction of women into the democratic process further complicates it because of the ways the state wants to regulate women’s bodies and labor for the state’s productive ends.

Dr. Steege saw this as an apt point to bring in Maia Ortashvili to discuss moments of emerging democracy in the failure of empire, the opportunity of democratic expansion in post-Soviet settings, and to question the waning of the window of opportunity for the spread of democracy. Ms. Ortashvili said that there are basically three categories in the post-soviet nation-states, with the political spectrum from democracy to authoritarianism visible on a map on a west-to-east axis. The farthest west, including the former Czechoslovakia, “graduate” to democracy by fulfilling the expectations of the European Union and NATO in government reform, setting a standard for Black Sea countries to follow. On the opposite side of the spectrum are Russia, Belarus, and Central Asian countries which borrowed some parts of the democratic prescriptions they received from the West, but are primarily authoritarian.

She named Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, “sometimes Armenia,” and formerly Azerbaijan as among the “hybrid democracies” with philosophical and institutional underpinnings in both camps. This leaves the region in a “bipolar” situation where nations are largely either associated with the EU or Russia and Russian influence. Dr. Steege’s introduction to Ms. Ortashvili included mentioning Francis Fukuyama’s concept of an ‘end of history,’ where the end of the Cold War would see the transition into a world system where competition is solely over markets. Ms. Ortashvili called-back to that at the end of her closing remarks, noting that the end of history came decades ago for many of these countries which had established democratic republics in the early twentieth century which were forcefully annexed by the USSR in the 1930s.

In part 2.2, we will look at the general discussion and question-and-answer session of the event. The video and audio can be found here, at the Lepage Center Site.