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History Majors and Faculty Participated in Regional Conference

Posted on Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seven Westminster College history majors presented papers and four faculty attended the Western Pennsylvania Regional Phi Alpha Theta conference March 26 at Grove City College.

Junior Katelyn Best presented "Dissecting Mencken: An Analysis of H. L. Mencken's Scopes' Trial Editorials."  Dr. Russell Martin, Westminster professor of history, is her faculty adviser.

Mencken's coverage of and involvement in the famous Scopes evolution trial helped the case become a defining episode in American history.  Mencken was able to give the public a better sense of the issues involved and he was interested in discrediting the visiting prosecution attorney, William Jennings Bryan.  The paper investigated the possibility that Mencken also used the case as a platform to further his campaign against the South that had begun several years earlier through his controversial article "The Sahara of the Bozart."  The paper sought to establish Mencken's purpose: Did he adhere strictly to his original quest to discredit Bryan or did his focus shift to the advancement of his "Sahara" campaign? 

"This was my first Phi Alpha Theta conference," Best said.  "It was a great experience to see what other undergraduates are working on."

Best is a daughter of Robert and Zethina Best of Parker and a graduate of Allegheny-Clarion Valley High School.

Senior Nicholas DiCarolis presented "New Science and Old Faith: Evolution in Pittsburgh Public Schools Science Curriculum," which won recognition for the best paper on his panel.  Dr. Timothy Cuff, Westminster associate professor of history, was the adviser for the paper.

DiCarolis is a son of Vincent and Alicia DiCarolis of New Kensington and a graduate of Valley High School.

Junior Jessie Foertsch presented "The Counterculture of the 1960s: The Outcry of a Generation."  Dr. David Twining, Westminster professor of history, is her faculty adviser.

The paper examined one of the most turbulent eras of American history and a generation that has left a lasting legacy on American society.  Foertsch researched political activist groups, the civil rights movement, women's liberation, the antiwar movement, drug use, religious exploration, and communal living. 

"The conference provided great opportunities to meet other history students and faculty and learn about their topics of research," Foertsch said.  "It also allowed me to receive feedback and constructive criticism so that I may improve my research, writing, and presentation skills."

Foertsch is a daughter of Albert and Debra Foertsch of Butler and a graduate of Knoch High School.

Senior Luke Franchuk presented "The Present, Yet Invisible Church: A Study of the Russian Orthodox Church and Its Relationship with the Soviet Union."  Dr. Patricia Clark, Westminster associate professor of history, is his faculty adviser.

Franchuk's research examined the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet Union.  While most believe correctly that the Orthodox Church was persecuted during the Soviet Union's rule, there is a large amount of evidence to indicate there was mutual support between the church and the Communists, especially during World War II.

"The conference was a wonderful experience," Franchuk said.  "It was my first time presenting at a history conference and I consider it tremendously valuable to my future career as a historian."

Franchuk is a son of Gary and Patrice Franchuk of Butler and a graduate of Shady Side Academy.

Senior Adam Griffith, who is also a Latin major, presented "OI POMPEIOU LOGOI MEGALOU AUTOKRATOROS: Res Gestae and the Recording of Conquered Kings."  His faculty adviser is Dr. A. Dwight Castro, Westminster professor of classics.

The project looked at specific texts, res gestae, over time and analyzed them as a discreet literary genre.  It also examined a particular one from the Roman general Pompey the Great and inserted it into Roman historiography.

"I had a great time at the conference, meeting both peers and professors who gave me valuable insight into my work," Griffith said.

Griffith is a son of Linda Miller of Warren, Ohio, and Griffith Griffith of Cortland, Ohio, and a graduate of Howland High School.

Senor Lauren Sidun presented "Lee to the Rear!: How Changes in Command Affected the Structure and Culture of the Army of Northern Virginia."  Martin was the adviser for the paper.

Sidun is a daughter of Russell and Anita Sidun of McKees Rocks and a graduate of Montour High School.

Junior Morgan Smith presented "John Brown and His African American Following."  Lahr is her faculty adviser.

Brown, the radical and militant abolitionist, dedicated his life to helping African Americans, whether free, fugitive, or slave.  His militancy came back to haunt him when no slaves joined him for the Harper's Ferry attack.  Brown did not have a large African American following during his life because of his secretiveness, the reluctance of blacks to participate in militant action, and because he was not famous enough to attract a national following of any kind until after his death.

"Conferences are always a great experience," Smith said.  "It was highly informative and interesting to hear about other topics and to talk about possible career paths with other students who share the same passion."

Smith is a daughter of Ralph and Rosalyn Smith of Sharon and a graduate of Sharon High School.

The students received travel/presentation grants from Westminster's Drinko Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to attend the conference.

The Drinko Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning was created to enrich undergraduate education at Westminster through advancing world-class teaching as well as by participating in collaborations that address community and regional needs including strengthening K-12 education.  The Undergraduate Research Initiative provides funding for students to conduct research and to present their research at regional and national conferences.  Visit for more information about the Drinko Center and its programs.

Castro, Lahr, Twining, and Clark attended the conference.

Contact Lahr at (724) 946-7152 or email for additional information.

Front (l-r): Kate Best, Morgan Smith, Dr. A. Dwight Castro. Back (l-r): Jessie Foertsch, Lauren Sidun, Adam Griffith, Nick DiCarolis.
Luke Franchuk
Dr. Patricia Clark (l) and Lauren Sidun