A Unique Experience

As spring semester begins, it is perhaps appropriate that my first post of the new year include my research interests for the following semester (and my final semester, at that) and also the history department professors that I aim to have as a part of my committee. As part of my final set of studies, I will be working one-on-one in an independent study with Dr. Amy Nelson. As a result, Dr. Nelson has agreed to act as my adviser for my last semester. I will also have Dr. Kathleen Jones and Dr. David Cline as my other two committee members. I was only required to interview Dr. Cline as my other committee members were previously decided. Fortunately, as I have worked with Dr. Cline multiple times in the past three years, our interview was fairly short and to the point (i.e. he quickly agreed to be a part of my committee when asked).

My research interests have been narrowed greatly since the beginning of the fall semester: I am now focusing most readily on the use of dogs during World War I and the debates concerning such animals’ agency. I will be presenting my research at the Living with Animals conference in late March and will be accompanying Dr. Nelson to Kentucky to attend said conference.

How did I become interested in canine war heroes? I stumbled upon this topic quite unexpectedly. Indeed, although I have always been interested in World War I and World War II, I had never really considered the contribution of animals to either war effort. That is until I watched a documentary concerning both wars that explained the use of animals (and a variety of animals, at that). I immediately became fascinated with the idea of war animals and began researching the different types and various uses of animals in both world wars. What resulted was a plethora of information concerning war dogs, in particular, and a niche that appeared to need filling: the intersection of animal agency studies and World War I canine studies. Thus, I uncovered where I best believed I could make a contribution to the field of history.

As I am on a path quite different from my colleagues, I thought I would spend some of this post describing precisely how unique my experience has been. For starters, I will not be writing a thesis but rather a research paper on my chosen topic. I am also preparing for graduation this coming May while my colleagues are just beginning their second semesters at Virginia Tech. Lastly, I am dual enrolled in the history department and the education department. When I graduate in May, I will be graduating with two Master’s degrees and aim to begin a career in education. I have also spent three years at Virginia Tech, a year longer than my colleagues will ultimately spend in Blacksburg. Thus, my experience has been in many ways different from that of my colleagues and will continue to be so for this semester as well.

Lastly, I have been tasked with reviewing a former Virginia Tech history MA student’s thesis. I chose to read Kimberly Staub’s “Recipe for Citizenship: Women, Cookbooks, and Citizenship in the Kitchen, 1941-1945.” From the start of this thesis, it is easy to see why it became an award winner: Ms. Staub does an excellent job catching her readers’ attention from the start of the paper. Indeed, the topic itself is highly interesting and unique and food is a topic that we can all relate to quite effortlessly. The thesis is also well-written and clearly well-researched with a plethora of sources, including some images and advertisements. There are, however, some weaknesses to this thesis as well, a few that Ms. Staub recognizes herself within her work. For starters, I think this thesis could have benefited from a bit more comparison and contrasting between nations (if such sources are available). Also, if it had been possible, insight into the thoughts and feelings of these “kitchen citizens” themselves would have added greatly to Ms. Staub’s research and completed project. Certainly these are nit-picky issues with an overall fantastic piece of historical work. I can only hope that my own research interests will produce a similar product in the next few months.