Hilary Coulson and Ryan Mulvey Delve Deeply into History

Friday, April 30, 2010

It’s no wonder that Hilary Coulson and Ryan Mulvey have garnered the 2010 Academic Excellence in History award, presented at the annual Undergraduate Honors Convocation on May 4.

Both Coulson and Mulvey, members of the class of 2010, have spent their USD careers delving deeply into the complexities of history and preparing themselves for graduate school.

Mulvey, who attended Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, is a double major in history and political science. “Politics and history are my passions,” Ryan said, and his focus includes the history of France, French politics, political theory, and intellectual history.

Mulvey studied the history of France with Kathryn Statler, PhD. Clara Oberle, PhD, had a strong influence on his historical studies, especially in regards to wartime France. As a native San Diegan, Mulvey was also able to connect with Iris Engstrand, PhD, in a California history course. In Historian’s Methods – an upper-division course that he took during his freshman year – Mulvey learned from Jonathan Conant, PhD, how a historian should research and write. "Even though it was a little overwhelming, I realize now that it was something that formed me as a scholar over the past four years,” Mulvey said.

Mulvey also studied the French Revolution in a preceptorial course with Molly McClain, PhD, participating in her “Reacting to the Past” methodology that leads students to become more intimate with the periods and places they study.

“Things are little more black and white before you have a university education,” Mulvey said of USD’s impact on his intellectual growth. “I’ve been able to analyze the world in which I live and know the impact of my decisions as a USD student. I know that anybody can make a difference.”

While at USD, Mulvey worked as the opinion editor for the campus newspaper The Vista. He is a member of Phi Alpha Delta (a pre-law fraternity) and worked at the student-led Model United Nations. He is also a member of Phi Alpha Theta (the history honor society) as well as the French and political science societies.

Mulvey has ambitious plans after graduation. He will enter a joint-degree program in law and political philosophy at Boston University as a possible step to a future PhD. He aims to teach political philosophy and ethics, and is also considering the practice of law.

Coulson, who attended Hilltop High School in Chula Vista, is majoring in interdisciplinary humanities with an emphasis on English and a substantial minor in history. By graduation she will have taken eight courses in the history department.

Coulson entered USD with plans to become a prosecutor. She has spent much of her USD career working in the Restitution Enforcement Division of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, where she helped pioneer a victim advocacy program in the South Bay area.

“It was right in my area of concern,” Coulson said. “I’m concerned about victims and justice being served to people.”

But then Coulson took the American Women in History course taught by Victoria de la Torre, PhD, which includes a focus on marginalized groups in American society and the history of women and minority struggles.

“Doctor de la Torre inspired me to pursue history full time,” Coulson said. “She made a difference in my life. I want to be a women’s history professor. I want to make a difference in others’ lives.”

Coulson went on to take several other courses with de la Torre and formed a strong intellectual bond with her professor. In March they teamed up with history major Laura Vaughn to write an article in The Vista opinion section defending the importance of Women’s History Month in honoring women’s struggles against legal and cultural oppression. The full article is available here.

“It’s important for society to look at the progress we’ve made in the last 40 years with the feminist revolution and civil rights movement,” said Coulson, adding that everybody should be required to take a women’s history course. “Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean there’s not a lot still to be done. The country can move forward by understanding history better.”

With the assistance of de la Torre, McClain, and Thomas Barton, Coulson prepared a senior humanities thesis on witch hunts in early modern Europe. She studied the role that fertility played in the interrogation and prosecution of women during the hunts. She observed witches’ roles in blocking fertility and how women were very closely linked to, and responsible for, fertility.

“They were blamed for impotence in men,” Coulson explained. “If a woman is not fertile, it’s her fault. I haven’t seen anybody explore this facet of the witch hunts.”

Coulson, who is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, is currently applying to PhD programs in history and hopes to enter Claremont Graduate University.

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