History Department
History Department

Four History Seniors Among Dean’s Distinguished Graduates

Wed, May 17, 2017
Four History Seniors Among Dean’s Distinguished Graduates
Clockwise from top left: Claire Smith, Eamon Dowd, Elizabeth Patten, and James “Jake” Barnett

Story by Rebecca Adeline Johnston, Ph.D Student, UT History Dept.

The History Department is pleased to announce that four undergraduates in the Department of History are among a select group receiving this year’s Dean's Distinguished Graduates honors. James “Jake” Barnett, Eamon Dowd, and Claire Smith have been named Dean’s Distinguished Graduates, and Elizabeth Patten has received a Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Honorable Mention. The College of Liberal Arts names only a dozen graduates and honorable mentions each, making this an extraordinarily high honor.

In a statement, Dean Randy Diehl elaborated on the purpose of the award:

“The College instituted this award in 1980 to recognize graduating Liberal Arts students who have distinguished themselves in the areas of scholarship, leadership, and service to the College and University community. It is the highest award the College offers and [is] truly reflective of the remarkable caliber of our graduates.”

Notably, Jake, Eamon, and Claire were all part of the Normandy Scholars Program, which each said played a valuable role in their history education. “The Normandy Scholar professors made history seem new again,” said Claire, “through their original, profoundly challenging, and almost immersive teaching of arguably the most important event in modern history, which reaffirmed my love of history as a subject.” Jake remarked that the Normandy professors were among “the best professors I've ever had.” Eamon agreed, saying the program “offered me access to some of the best faculty UT has to offer.” We asked our honorees to speak a bit more about their experience as History majors and where they see themselves going from here.

BarnettJames “Jake” Barnett
History (Special Honors) / Plan II Honors Program

Jake has had an incredible trajectory as a young scholar. For the past year, he has been conducting research in Dar es Salaam on a Boren Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense. Starting in September, he will be a Public Interest Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

“Of course, studying history helps you hone your analytical skills, teaches you to explain complex abstractions in clear and concise language, builds up your caffeine tolerance, etc., and all of these are key skills for working in public policy. But the most important thing history has taught me is how to appreciate that different societies or even different segments of society often have profoundly different historical narratives, and that these narratives in turn shape distinct worldviews. You could even call it empathy, but this ability to understand another society's perspective is crucial to conducting any sort of foreign policy.”

DowdEamon Dowd
Economics (Special Honors) / Plan II Honors Program / History
Eamon expressed gratitude to Normandy Program Professor David Crew for his compelling course on 20th Century German history, which gave Eamon context and appreciation for the reconstruction of Berlin during the group’s summer trip to Europe. He will be attending law school starting this fall.

“As a history student at UT, I had the chance to take a closer look at familiar ideas, eras and people. Whether it was through reconsidering contemporary associations with the name ‘Rhodes’ in proper historical context or studying news coverage of the bombing of Nagasaki from American and Japanese perspectives, I have been able to think more critically because of my experience studying history at UT.”

Claire Smith
Humanities (Special Honors; College Honors) / History

Claire’s undergraduate research dealt with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, addressing the impact of the lack of a free press on revolutionary practices and democracy building. She credited her advisors, Yoav Di-Capua and Benjamin Brower, for helping her to think about history in a conceptual manner and develop as a scholar overall.

“History as a disciplines teaches people to think beyond the event itself and examine how things happened and why. I think historians have a unique ability to conceptualize detailed repercussions of events. Additionally, history is a story of human struggle. When you seriously delve into why certain events happened, understanding others is a necessary part of the equation. I believe history teaches people how to think critically analytically but also how to cultivate empathy, which are two important skills for anyone, whether they continue to study history or not.”

PattenElizabeth Patten
American Studies (College Honors) / History
Elizabeth’s immediate plans following graduation are to move to Washington, DC. to spend some time in the professional world. Down the road, she would like to further her education by attending law school.

“I think that my history degree has taught me how to think critically, to write carefully, to recognize the complexity in all things, and to construct a well researched, analytical argument - all of which are skills I know will be beneficial to me in both the professional world and graduate school. On a personal level, my academic study of diverse historical events and figures has given me the ability to interpret the complexities of current political and world events and to detect bias in a variety of media formats, which I believe is crucial to being a thoughtful, informed, and engaged citizen.”

The entire group will be honored at Spring Commencement on May 19, 2017.

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