Links to the Past

Summer 2013

In This Issue:


Dana Adobe in Nipomo, CACal Poly Students Help Decipher Historical Letters for Dana Adobe

In 2009, the Rancho Nipomo Dana Adobe obtained historical letters written by members of San Luis Obispo’s Dana family, but when they had trouble finding someone capable of deciphering them, students from Cal Poly answered the call.

History students Molly Prendergast and Andrew Engdahl were tasked with painstakingly translating the five letters written in Spanish by members of the Dana family as part of an internship with the Dana Adobe. The letters were written in the 1860s, and provide a snippet of the lives of the Danas at the time including family affairs, business, and an apparent smallpox outbreak. As part of the unpaid internship, Engdahl and Prendergast were required to work at least 12 hours per week over seven weeks. But translating Spanish text that dates back to the Civil War wasn’t as simple as using Rosetta Stone, Engdahl said. Not only were the letters written in an archaic form of Spanish called “Californio,” named for the mostly Hispanic population that occupied California at the time, but simply making out words on the time-worn, handwritten letters turned out to be a huge challenge, he added.

“At times we would sit in the library for eight hours trying to figure out what in the world they were saying,” said Engdahl, “not only translating the words, but deciphering their handwriting and correcting for spelling, punctuation and usage errors.”

To view this article in its entirety, please visit The Tribune website.

Annual History Department Awards LuncheonStudent, Wyatt Oroke receives award from Professor Andrew Morris

The History Department hosted its annual Scholarship and Awards Luncheon on June 7 and would like to congratulate the following student recipients:

  • Meredith Andre – Spencer Wood Memorial Award
  • Sarah Bean – Dan Krieger History Award
  • Jessica Colbert – Kristin King Morana Memorial Scholarship
  • Christine Danielson – Thomas Family “Learn by Doing” Award
  • Ian Day – Thomas Redican Memorial Scholarship
  • Soquel Filice – Heifetz Family/John G. Snetsinger Scholarship
  • Giuliana Magnasco – George Cotkin Award for Scholarly Excellence
  • Marissa Millhorn – J. Irving Snetsinger Award for Political or Diplomatic History
  • Laura Neylan - Heifetz Family/John G. Snetsinger Scholarship
  • Wyatt Oroke – J. Irving Snetsinger Award for Writing Excellence
  • Andrew Pagan – Robert Detweiler Outstanding Senior Award
  • Molly Prendergast – Madalene P. Farris History Award 

If you would like to show your support for the History Department and its students, please visit the Cal Poly Advancement website.

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Profile: Recent Alumni and Law Schools

A history degree serves as effective preparation for a wide range of careers, a fact reflected in the diverse paths of department alumni. In this first installment of a series, we survey some recent graduates who found the history major to be a useful entry to law school and the legal profession.

History Alumni, Keith GoodwinThis past May, Keith Goodwin (HIST 2010) graduated from Columbia Law School in New York City. When Goodwin arrived at Cal Poly as a freshman, however, he had no inkling of pursuing a career in law. Goodwin started college as an architecture major. But after switching to history, he quickly discovered a legal career to be the right fit for his intellectual interests and a history degree as an excellent path to pursue those interests. Goodwin found himself fascinated by legal subjects and problems in the past, such as the Napoleonic Code in post-Revolution France, Taiwan’s ambiguous status under international law, and the civil rights movement in the United States.

Once in law school, Goodwin found that his interest in historical questions and methods prepared him well for the rigors of a legal education. Law courses require critical thinking, good written communication skills, and the ability to comprehend source materials. “Few undergraduate majors,” he notes, “develop these skills as effectively as history does.” Goodwin also found that navigating the law was similar in analysis to navigating the incomplete record of the past. Like a history student, he said, a “good lawyer should explain where a law came from and why it exists.”  They must “sift through innumerable, sometimes conflicting sources to explain legal development.”

While pursuing his interests in constitutional law and intellectual property law, Goodwin chose to focus on employment law. Starting in fall 2013 he will join the Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose LLP, a law firm with 13 branches worldwide, and will work in the Labor and Employment Law department.

For his fellow history majors who are considering law school and its costs, Goodwin recommends examining the job placement data of prospective law schools (available through the American Bar Association’s or the law school’s website) especially in relation to tuition and repayment of student loans. This is the best way to ensure that attending law school will “further one’s career goals without sacrificing a financially stable future.”


History Alumni, Jackson MinasianThis August, Jackson Minasian (HIST 2012) will enter Boalt Hall, the UC Berkeley School of Law. While a Cal Poly undergraduate, Minasian explored diverse career paths, including business, aviation and agriculture. But he ultimately found law to be the logical choice both for his intellectual interests and for his family history. Minasian’s grandfather and great uncle established a law firm in Oroville specializing in water and agricultural law. His father works with the firm today, and his mother is also an attorney. Minasian stresses that he never received pressure from family to become a lawyer. Instead, he explains, agricultural legal issues “captivated my interest from an early age.” He expects to pursue and to specialize in these fields while in law school.

For Minasian, a history education grooms students for a legal career by exposing them to rhetorical intricacies of precise thinking and to cause-and-effect modes of explanation. “Like historians,” he explains, “attorneys build narratives based on sources and with the intent of persuading their audience. A history student learns to identify various rhetorical techniques, and eventually they become skilled at constructing their own narratives.”

Minasian’s best advice to history majors is to pursue these skills voraciously both in class and by reading newspapers. Engagement with the news, he recalls, “benefited my academic and intellectual development in every way.”

Stay Connected

Alumni, we'd like to hear from you! Forward us information on your career, activities, anything of interest to former classmates, professors, and current History majors. You may just be highlighted in our next department newsletter.
Email and include the following information:

  • Name
  • Year Graduated
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number
  • Summary of what you'd like to share

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Professor Lewis CallCourse Feature: Professor Lewis Call and The History of Network Technology

Q: For the uninitiated, what defines network technology? And how does it have a history?

A: In my view, a network is any communication system that includes at least two nodes. Humans have always built and used these networks. Smoke and fire signals are one example. The Pony Express was a 19th century network based on equestrian technology. For much of the 20th century, the telephone system was the most important network. HIST 354 focuses mainly on digital computer networks. Most of us think of these as a recent development, but they have a surprisingly long history. The U.S. government built some of the first computer networks in the 1950s to provide for national defense in the age of atomic warfare. Every technology has a history, and if you study that history, you can figure out why the technology is the way that it is.

Q: What inspired you to develop the course? 

A: I first proposed the course more than ten years ago, when Cal Poly made some major revisions to its general education program. One big change was the introduction of the new General Education (G.E.) Area F, which focused on technology. Technology plays such a major role in our lives, yet we rarely think about what that technology is, where it came from, who made it, or why they made it. HIST 354 provides students the opportunity to ask and to answer these questions about information technology. 

Q: How has the course evolved in the time you’ve taught it, especially as network technology has advanced and become ubiquitous in society?

A: This course has changed more than any other I teach. I add new material almost every quarter.  Network technology changes so rapidly; it's hard to keep up! Here's a good example: when I first started teaching this course, Facebook didn't exist. Now I can't imagine teaching the course without discussing Facebook. It's a challenge to keep a course current when the subject matter evolves so rapidly. But actually I enjoy that aspect because it means that the class stays fresh and relevant. 

Q: Does the course pose unique challenges for you as the instructor?

A: Definitely. I never know where the discussions will end up. I bring up Web pages on the fly during class. Discussions also rely heavily on students. They tell me which social networks are cool and useful and interesting, which ones are "so five minutes ago." Sometimes the class gets pretty hypertextual (a reference to the form of text that lets you jump around the Web by clicking links), and I think that's good. It makes the class more interactive, more non-linear, and more exciting.

Q: In your experience, what about the course seems to most surprise students?

A: One thing that often surprises students is that I refuse to condemn hackers. The mainstream American media typically portrays hackers as criminals. I prefer to take a more nuanced view. In my class we talk about what Steven Levy calls the "hacker ethic." It's a value system that holds that information should be freely available and that decentralized organizational structures are generally superior to centralized ones. We also differentiate between types of hackers: the malicious "black hats," who spread viruses or crash servers, as opposed to the "white hats" who work to improve network security. A reading from Parmy Olson's book, “We Are Anonymous,” has become quite popular with students. The Anonymous movement is a band of mostly amateur hackers that has challenged powerful organizations like the Church of Scientology and PayPal. They defended Wikileaks. They contributed to the Arab Spring. The story of Anonymous shows us that self-organizing groups of ordinary people can bring about significant political and social change. I think that inspires students.

Q: How does the course fit with the History Department curriculum? When can students take it?

A: History majors can take HIST 354 both for G.E. Area F and for major credit. That means that the class fills up quickly, so interested students shouldn’t wait until their final quarter to enroll. Students definitely need solid writing skills, because all of the assignments are written work. As a prerequisite, students should also fulfill G.E. Area B. Junior standing is recommended. 

Q: Has the course impacted or altered how you think about technology and teaching? 

A: I used to think that technology and teaching were two different things. One interesting thing about HIST 354 is that it has taught me that technology and teaching can be the same thing. In the course we learn to think technologically. By the end of the class, we're all cyborgs. It's kind of awesome!

Annual Career Skills Day

On April 12, the History Department hosted its fifth annual Career Skills Day.   The event brought current students together with distinguished alumni for discussion of a wide range of career tracks open to history majors as well as for tips for successful applying and interviewing.

As part of the event, the History Department welcomed back to campus three alumni presenters.  Kevin Dunham (B.A. HIST, 1986) spoke of his path from Cal Poly undergraduate and athlete to his career in the fields of risk assessment and customer relationship management, which has led to his current work as an Executive Vice President for Zurich Global Corporate in North America.   Erin Wighton (B.A. HIST, 2006; M.A., 2011) presented on careers in public history and the non-profit sector.  Wighton currently serves as Chief Administrative Officer of The History Center of San Luis Obispo County, where she began working in 2009 through a History Department internship.  To round out the afternoon, Gregory J. Schulte (B.A. HIST, 1988) discussed his career path in the public sector.  After graduating from Cal Poly, Schulte worked for several county and city governments.  This experience led to his current position as Assistant Administrative Officer for the County of San Luis Obispo.

Each of the presenters highlighted that a history education prepares students to wear “many hats,” master a variety of career experiences, and excel in the multifaceted workplaces and complex institutions of today’s economy.  In addition to the scheduled presentations, students and the alumni presenters enjoyed lunch and engaged in a lively question and answer session, during which students showed particular interest in networking strategies and job-hunting via social media.  

The History Department extends its gratitude and appreciation to our participating alumni and students who made this year’s Career Skills Day a success. 

If you are an alumni, parent, or community partner interested in joining the History department’s career skills network, please contact Kimberly Barton in the History Department at 805-756-2670.

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Professor Matt Hopper: World Historian, World TravelerDr. Matt Hopper in Sidney, Australia

Professor Matt Hopper expected the 2012-13 academic year would keep him close to home where he would focus on family life and completing his book project. Instead, the year brought invitations to represent the Cal Poly History Department at conferences abroad and to share his research with international scholars.

In March 2013, Hopper ventured to the American University in Kuwait for a conference on Arabian Gulf cities. In May, he journeyed to New York University in Abu Dhabi to discuss Gulf economies in the era before petroleum. And in June, Hopper presented his work on pearl diving in the region at the University of Sydney. Each of the host institutions provided grants to cover travel expenses.

Research conferences are a central feature of faculty life but one little seen by students and those outside academia. Conferences facilitate the exchange and transmission of research findings and new ideas prior to their publication in journals or books. They also provide faculty with opportunities to network and to develop future partnerships with fellow academics and public historians.

But as Hopper sees it, conferences also enable faculty to integrate fresh scholarly ideas into their teaching and, thus, acquaint students with cutting-edge scholarship. As an example, he cites his fall 2012 course, HIST 444: East Africa Since 1800; the syllabus of which he rebuilt after attending a conference at Cambridge University earlier that year. “Moments like these,” Hopper explains, “demonstrate the extent to which faculty scholarship matters to students and to their futures. And they underscore the educational value of Cal Poly’s teacher-scholar model.”

Although globe-trotting kept Hopper busy this year, he did complete his book project, Slaves of One Master, which will be published by Yale University Press in 2014. The book examines the African diaspora to the Arabian Gulf during the 19th century and focuses in particular on the role of African slaves in the region’s production of export and luxury items such as date fruit and pearls. Hopper hopes the book will build comparative dialogue between the economic history of slavery in the Indian Ocean with that in the Atlantic world.

Where will the next academic year take Professor Hopper? He answers firmly that he’s made no travel plans. Instead, he expects to stay in San Luis Obispo County, spend time with his family, and complete final revisions on his book. But if history is any guide, we expect many scholarly travels in his future.

Professor Kathleen MurphyHistory Professor Awarded American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship

Kathleen S. Murphy, assistant professor of history at Cal Poly, has received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for the 2013-14 academic year. The award supports research in the humanities and humanistic social sciences that the council considers to be particularly promising. Murphy received the fellowship to support her research into the history of science of the slave trade.

"Kate Murphy is an outstanding faculty member who excels in teaching and research," said Doug Epperson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. "This award confirms what we have always believed: Professor Murphy is one of the top young scholars in the country within this area. In addition to advancing her research, this award will inform her teaching, benefitting countless future Cal Poly students."

Cal Poly has awarded Murphy a sabbatical that, with the ACLS fellowship, will allow her to be relieved of teaching duties for next year and focus on researching and writing her book manuscript, “Slaving Science: Natural Knowledge and the British Slave Trade, 1660-1807.” It will be the first book-length study to examine the intersection of the history of science and the history of the British slave trade.

Murphy argues that the particularities of the British slave trade shaped the knowledge produced through its networks and that scientific knowledge, in turn, influenced the development of the slave trade. “We have a tendency to think of the development of early modern science and the transatlantic slave trade as wholly unconnected,” Murphy said. “My research shows that, in fact, they were deeply intertwined.”

Murphy joined the faculty at Cal Poly in 2007. She teaches courses in early American history and the history of science, as well as co-directs the History Department’s internship program.

The ACLS is a private, nonprofit federation of 71 national scholarly organizations that seeks to advance studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and related social sciences. The council offers fellowships and grants in more than a dozen programs. In the international competition for ACLS fellowships this year, 65 of 1,121 projects were funded (25 at the assistant professor level).

New Faculty Publications

Kathleen Cairns
Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, University of Nebraska Press (June 2013).

Molly Loberg
"The Streetscape of Economic Crisis: Commerce, Politics, and Urban Space in Interwar Berlin," Journal of Modern History (June 2013): 364-402.

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Our generous donors have made it possible for us to fund:

Award Winner, Hilda Iorga with Donor, Len Heifetz

Student Scholarships
Each year the History Department presents a number of scholarships made possible by donors. Last year, the department presented the following awards/scholarships: the George Cotkin Award for Scholarly Excellence, Robert Detweiler Outstanding Senior Award, Madalene P. Farris History Award, Dan Krieger History Award, J. Irving Snetsinger Memorial Award for Political or Diplomatic History, J. Irving Snetsinger Award for Writing Excellence, Spencer Wood Memorial Award, Heifetz Family/John G. Snetsinger Scholarship, Kristin King Morana Memorial Scholarship, Thomas Family Learn-by-Doing Scholarship, and Thomas Redican Memorial Scholarship. Over the last five years, the History Department has been able to present 65 awards totaling over $42,000 in academic scholarships supported by donations.

Faculty Professional Development
In recent years, donors have helped to fund the travel expenses of several faculty members conducting research in such locations as Cambodia, England, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Nigeria, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.

Instructional Resources
Past donations have allowed the department to purchase special computer software and teaching resources such as films and maps to enhance the instruction of History at Cal Poly. Thanks to generous donations, the department has been able to provide a stipend of $1,000 per year to each new tenure-track faculty member for the purchase of teaching materials for courses in his or her area of specialization.

Would you consider making a donation to enhance the study and instruction of history at Cal Poly?
Please contact the Department Chair at (805)756-2670 or visit Cal Poly's Advancement website.

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Archived Newsletters

For earlier editions (1985 to 2000) of our newsletter please visit DigitalCommons@Cal Poly.

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