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History has the word “story” in it for a reason.

“The middle section of history is the story. To me, the stories that I can find are really exciting,” said Dr. Catherine Clinton, the UTSA Department of History’s new Denman Endowed professor. “(And through teaching), I love showing that you are in charge of your own story.”

This semester, Clinton and Dr. Andrew Konove, a new assistant professor of history, started teaching at UTSA, where they will add their own chapters to the ongoing story of the university’s history department. Their arrival echoes the changes that the department has undergone as part of a three-year strategic plan.

“We need to continue to grow,” said Dr. Gregg Michel, the chair of the history department. “To grow, we need to continue to hire top-notch faculty, highlight faculty research and continue to draw students toward us.”

Michel believes creating of a departmental theme, hiring new professors and adding a scholarship program will growth in the history department.

The department’s new theme — Empires, States, and Borders — was added at the beginning of the year in hope of attracting more history students to UTSA. According to Michel, the theme summarizes the department’s ongoing research.

“We haven’t changed our courses. We haven’t changed our research,” explained Michel. “It’s a way to concisely articulate what we do that clearly reflects the type of works historians in this department do.”

The idea is that a stated focus will help students, particularly M.A. students, who are interested in researching a topic within the theme, choose UTSA.

“San Antonio is an ideal place to study empires, states and borders given the city’s long history, its diverse population, its strong military presence and its wealth of local historical resources,” said Michel.

Though Gregory Casarez, a senior history major, had not heard about the theme, he believed that the theme would improve the department. “I wish they had this (theme) when I was coming in,” he said. “Things would have been completely different. I would have been more focused.”

Besides assisting prospective students, the theme will also attract professors whose studies relate to the theme.

According to Konove, a former Yale student and current UTSA professor, “The department’s theme was an attraction of the job.”

His research, which examines Mexico City’s street economies from the late colonial period to the beginning of the twentieth century, speaks to the department’s theme. “The street markets I study, while centrally located in Mexico’s capital, were marginal spaces on the imaginary borders that separated so-called ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ Mexican society,” he explained.

Clinton, a prominent Civil War historian who has taught at Harvard and worked as an advisor for the movie “Lincoln,” also embraced the idea of the theme.

“I’m so pleased that they have picked these very large, exciting areas. Of course, I have some that are my favorites more than others,” she said. “But, I have to say I’m thoroughly feminist, and all of these particular areas allow me not only to use feminist theories but also feminist analysis.”

Though the arrival of two new professors is exciting, their arrival is ultimately the result of many recent retirements in the department, something which graduating history major Greg Casarez felt damaged his experience with the department.

“It feels like all the professors that were here when I started are gone,” he said. “And now, there’s no one for me to go to (for advice).”

However, Clinton points out that the hiring demonstrates how well the department is doing. “A lot of universities are not, shall we say, ‘restocking,’” she said. “Coming here to see that they are hiring the chair, that they are building on their strengths really heartens me as a scholar and a teacher, so I hope we get more students keenly interested in history.”

Besides the addition of the theme, one of the other major attractors for students to UTSA’s history department may be the Nau Scholars Program. Started two years ago after a $1 million donation from John and Bobbie Nau, the program awards fellowships ($5,000-$10,000) to advanced undergraduates and teaching assistantships ($10,000-$16,000) as well as fellowships ($8,000-$12,000) to graduate applicants.

“It’s an excellent tool for us to recruit high-achieving students,” Michel said. “Funding for graduate education is declining across the United States right now, and to have funding for masters studies, as opposed to doctoral work, is really unique. There are very few masters programs (that provide) the type of support we do.”

While this program will only be available for five years, Michel hopes that the department will continue to work with the Naus. Continual funding could help form a basis for a history Ph.D. program, which according to Michel, “will not happen within the next year or two,” but is a possibility if the department continues on its current track.

“We are working in sync with the university’s goals,” said Michel. “I think sometimes the broader community needs to be reminded that the liberal arts has an important role to play in advancing the university’s Tier One goals.”

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