History Department Hosts First All-Graduate Student Conference

By Rebecca Egli - On April 9 and 10, 2016, “Historians Without Borders, History Without Limits” saw students from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, Rutgers, Colorado State and beyond present their research to university faculty and students, as well as members of the local community. From Gilded Age Detroit to the Mediterranean and Sahara of the sixteenth century, the event featured a diverse and compelling range of topics.

“When I first got to UC Davis, one of the most salient pieces of advice I was given was that you should get yourself out there—do something,” explains Lawrence Abrams, who co-chaired the conference with fellow grad Kaleb Knoblauch. Yet many graduate students are hesitant to present their research in front of scholars in their chosen field.

“The only way to improve your performance is to put it out in front of others and receive helpful criticism,” Knoblauch adds. “To be able to get that practice helps inoculate students for higher-stakes conferences in the future." 

The conference chairs hoped that the conference would encourage an open exchange of ideas, and provide an opportunity to build scholarly community between students working in a variety of fields on different campuses. This certainly proved to be the case. “The diverse papers and panels worked together in unexpected ways,” Abrams explains. “The conference took on its own life.”

Showcasing professional history

Panels and presentations covered Asian American history, the environment, indigenous peoples, gender, colonialism, and borderlands. Graduate students and faculty worked together, volunteering throughout the weekend. On Saturday evening, Emeritus History professor Clarence Walker, recipient of the 2015 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement, delivered the keynote address.

With the number of students majoring in history declining in recent years, events that draw undergraduates are important. This weekend’s conference did just that. “There is value in showcasing what professional history can look like,” Abrams says. “Lots of people don’t know what we do or what our work product looks like. Events like this go beyond the classroom lecture.” To bring historical research to a wider audience, clear communication and accessibility are key.

Abrams and Knoblauch hope that the event will continue in years to come. “We want this to be more than just a flash in the pan.”

This event was sponsored by the Institute for Social Sciences, the Davis Humanities Institute, the Department of History, the Cross Cultural Women’s and Gender History research cluster, and the Graduate Student Association.

To learn more about graduate research in history at UC Davis, visit the Department of History website.

Photos courtesy of Lawrence Abrams.