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Eighteen Months Engaged with History as a GEA

History can feel like a lonely field to a graduate student. The support of family, friends, colleagues and advisors notwithstanding, the life of a graduate student involves seemingly countless hours reading, writing and thinking. All of these activities happen primarily in solitude, at desks in libraries, archives and offices. Yet my time as Graduate Editorial Assistant (GEA) at KHS showed me how misleading that feeling can be. I left with a new appreciation of how history comes to life when we recognize that just the opposite is true: history is an engaged and exciting field.

Managing the Book Review Section of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society put me in touch with literally hundreds of scholars from across the world as I sought good reviewers for books that would interest our readers. Helping to edit the Register showed me how collaborative the process of historical writing should be, and how much the back-and-forth between writers and editors can improve the final product. I was also really happy that my time as GEA let me work on a lot of projects at KHS besides the Register.

The conversations I had with many of our visiting research fellows challenged me to refine my thinking about my own work, and my dissertation benefitted tremendously from their insights. I enjoyed organizing a panel for and attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Environmental Historians and discussing Kentucky’s rich, but challenging, environmental legacies. Chatting with folks at the recent Kentucky Ancestors Town Hall reminded me of the importance of making connections between genealogy and the broader sweep of academic history.

Talking with groups of Kentuckians on our Kentucky @ 225 Listening Tour, I am inspired by the depth of connections people feel to their state. Travelling to parts of the Bluegrass state that I’m less familiar with and speaking with diverse groups has given me a new appreciation of how folks identify with the Commonwealth. From thoroughbred horses and Kentucky’s natural beauty to persistent poverty and educational inequality, the state’s residents have clear ideas about both our strengths and the obstacles we continue to face. These conversations have given me new confidence that we will meet those challenges. Even running the Kentucky History Half-Marathon with hundreds of other athletes, which winds past the Old State Capitol, Daniel Boone’s grave and along the scenic Kentucky River, helped me feel a visceral connection to the Commonwealth’s history.

My time as GEA reminded me that history comes alive when people engage with it today. History is not lonely, boring or dry. At least it shouldn’t be. Instead, history is a conversation that we have in the present about how the past shapes the world we live in.


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