A Passage in Time

May 02, 2012

If a time machine could transport you back to a mid-eighteenth-century British naval ship, you might be surprised to find yourself rubbing shoulders not only with burly sailors, but with scientists as well.  That’s because, as Annabel Tudor ’11 explained in her paper titled "The Role of the Navy in Scientific Exploration and Discovery, 1750-1800," the navy had begun to place naturalists on their ships, a move that later positioned them to be the most effective colonists the world has ever seen.

Tudor’s paper was part of a trio of British Naval history papers recently presented at the Biennial National Convention of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honors society. As part of the grouping, Ryan Hudnall ’04 presented his paper titled, "God's Navy: The Puritan Origins of British Naval Supremacy,” which explored the role of Puritan foreign policy, economics, and imperial ambitions in the rise of British naval dominance; and Sebastian Novak ’12 presented a paper titled, "God Breathed and They Were Scattered: The Defeat of the Spanish Armada," which focused on how the growth of the English navy and advances made in naval architecture were instrumental in the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English.

“A great deal of shared learning can happen when you publicly present your ideas for review and critique,” said Hudnall, who is currently a second year student in the master of liberal studies program. “When the participants come together and this academic give-and-take occurs, it's a great experience.”

Pursuing scholarship with the intention of sharing it with others is at the heart of the Phi Alpha Theta’s mission, to promote the exchange of learning and ideas among historians. And it’s also a central tenet for Hudnall.

“On the surface, presenting a paper at an academic convention is both an honor and one of those essential resume additions that everyone covets,” said Hudnall. “I suspect a lot of students seek out these kinds of opportunities to advance their academic careers one way or another.  To me, however, that's a bad faith reason for accepting the challenge of presenting a paper. Scholarship, at its core, is designed to be a shared experience, not something one does to receive recognition or praise.”

Novak also appreciated having his research recognized, and echoed Hundall’s sentiment about the value of sharing scholarship. “It’s a great honor to have your work recognized and considered worthy of presentation to an national audience,” he said. “Exchanging ideas with your peers from around the country is both informative and exciting. I think it is very beneficial that there are opportunities for undergraduates to present their individual research and scholarship, an opportunity usually only afforded to either graduate students and faculty.”

The group also discovered that there is also tremendous value in defending one’s research in an academic setting. “The onus on a presenter is not only to share your ideas, but to meaningfully defend them,” said Hundall. “I'm pleased to say that I saw quite a bit of good give-and-take happening at the Phi Alpha Theta conference.  The dialogues were productive. Even when ideas were challenged, I never witnessed anyone descending to the level of unhelpful sniping.  As a result, I learned a good deal from the various panels I attended.”

By Kristen Manieri

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