History Graduate Student’s Research Opportunities Give Way to Professional Development, Historical Findings and Igniting Change

Colin McCrossan ’23 MA

Colin McCrossan ’23 MA began conducting independent research after he graduated from McGill University with a BA in History in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He never imagined his research on the history of slavery in southeastern Pennsylvania would lead him to Villanova University’s graduate program in History, but after being introduced to Professor Judith Giesberg, PhD, the Robert M. Birmingham Chair in the Humanities, McCrossan couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about his home state’s history with slavery. He quickly found that Villanova History was the perfect place to both continue his research and prepare for a career in law.

In addition to his connection with Dr. Giesberg, he also found mentorship in Associate Professor Craig Bailey, PhD, Graduate History Program Director, whose area of research overlaps with his own. McCrossan’s connection with Dr. Bailey led to many opportunities for public-facing work in community groups, civic organizations, churches and local historical societies. 

Throughout these experiences, Dr. Bailey has been a valuable resource for McCrossan. “He gave me advice on how to work with public groups and how to disseminate information,” McCrossan says. “He also showed me how to find more sources on slavery in this area and how to connect different sources that may have seemed disconnected.” 

McCrossan’s research has largely been focused on the history of slavery in southeastern Pennsylvania counties. He worked on Villanova’s Rooted Project, which is the University’s initiative to study the school’s past connections to slavery, segregation, racism, gender discrimination and religious prejudice. 

“My research for the Rooted Project has been about the history of slavery in what would become Villanova,” McCrossan says. “The land in the 18th century was owned by a white Quaker family that owned three Black people. Through the Rooted Project, I’ve researched Villanova’s history and been trying to raise awareness about this on campus by talking to students, faculty and staff about what it means, what people think about it, and what people think they should do about it.”

Villanova History has provided McCrossan with skills he carries into his next academic pursuit—Temple University Law School.

“The graduate program has helped me in a ton of ways,” he says. “Doing research, being a better writer, thinking about the writing process, becoming a better reader and really focusing on what I’m reading. Different levels of reading: reading for information, reading and thinking about how the author has structured the text and put paragraphs together, changing sentence structure. I learned more about how to work with people in the public through the public facing experiences. Before I took classes about public history, I had the idea that academics do research and then tell the public about it and then people should care, and I think that’s still true to some degree. But I learned more about how to distribute information to the public, why it’s important, why people should care, and how people take in new historical information.”

McCrossan believes that part of being in Villanova’s community means having challenging conversations and recognizing how we can contribute to igniting change in our environment.

“Community to me means thinking about what kind of environment we want Villanova to be,” he says. “Things at Villanova are in motion. As graduate students we can contribute to its future.”

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