My name is Michael Johnson, and I am a 2015 graduate of Villanova’s Master’s program in History. I grew up in South Jersey, and I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, where I graduated in 2012 with a degree in History, with a concentration in the United States.
Since middle school I have been interested in American History, particularly the Civil War era, an interest I attribute to my enthusiastic and inspiring U.S. History teacher. While at Notre Dame and Villanova, my research interests, still centered in the nineteenth century, have focused on questions of race, ethnicity, and identity. My undergraduate honors thesis, which coincidentally was based on materials from Villanova’s special collections, examined the dual Irish and American identities of the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish nationalist organization active in the United States after the Civil War.
After graduating from Notre Dame, I returned to South Jersey and worked as a curriculum developer for a company that promotes history education and professional development for schools. I had been interested in graduate school, and my advisors at Notre Dame suggested I look at Master’s programs in addition to doctoral programs. Villanova was already an attractive option because of its location and funding opportunities; meeting Drs. Emmet McLaughlin (then Director of Graduate Studies) and Judith Giesberg (the Nineteenth Century Historian I anticipated working most closely with), convinced me to apply.
My experience at Villanova was more than I could have imagined. I was able to learn from and work closely with amazing and supportive faculty. I even had opportunities to take classes outside of the History Department. After taking a course on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the Geography Department, I applied my interests in using digital tools to an Independent Study with Dr. Joseph Lennon in the Irish Studies Department on hunger strikes in British prisons during the first half of the twentieth century. As a result of this project, Dr. Lennon and I are coauthoring an essay which is set to be published in a forthcoming collection on using digital tools in the Humanities.
I was also able to pursue my primary interests in Civil War Era history. A research paper for Dr. Giesberg’s course on the Civil War led to an independent study during which I got to work closely with Dr. Giesberg and two other graduate students, Jim Kopaczewski and Elizabeth Motich. The project, “A Great Thing for Our People”: The Institute for Colored Youth in the Civil War Era, explores the Institute for Colored Youth, an elite school for African American children in nineteenth century Philadelphia. The online exhibit focuses on the many contributions the school’s first graduates made in the Philadelphia community and beyond.
Being a part of the History Department at Villanova also offered a number of opportunities outside of the classroom. I was able to present research before audiences at venues such as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. I also attended the 2014 Society of Civil War Historians conference, which was a great learning experience. As a graduate assistant, I had the opportunity to serve as Editorial Assistant for the Journal of the Civil War Era. I was also able to help develop the History Graduate Student blog, Historically Speaking, which allows students to share thoughts on current research and academic-related current events.
The Master’s Program in History at Villanova provided tremendous opportunities to grow as an individual and a scholar. Now I preparing to head down to Washington, D.C. to enroll in the doctoral program at George Washington University. My time at Villanova, working with faculty and fellow students both in and out of the classroom, provided valuable experiences that prepared me for this next stage in my studies.
British Hunger Strikes Project: http://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/hunger-strikes-british-prisons-1913-1940
Institute for Colored Youth: http://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/institute-colored-youth
Graduate Student Blog: https://vugradhistory.wordpress.com/