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EXCEL students worked under the guidance of Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history

Two students are providing unique help to Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history, for his latest book on World War I.

Flavia Carla Benedek ’09 (Woodside, N.Y.) is providing research and translation of Romanian documents while Ivan Dimitrov ’10 (Pavlikeni, Bulgaria) is providing the same service in Bulgarian.

Sanborn’s book, tentatively titled Life on the Frontier of Death: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Ecosystem of War in Russia, 1914-1918, examines Russia’s battles during the First World War and the preceding Balkan wars.

The two students are pouring through Romanian and Bulgarian sources, translating and abstracting the material so Sanborn can incorporate it into the writing. He says their work has proven invaluable to his efforts so far.

“I don’t read Romanian or Bulgarian, so this is work I wouldn’t have been able to do if not for them,” Sanborn says. “They’re doing a good job finding scholarly sources.”

For Benedek and Dimitrov, the project gives them a chance to learn more about their native lands while also contributing to an important body of work.

The project is being done through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program where students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“Even though I will go to law school after graduation, this project has helped me learn about my culture more and I am able to read faster now, a skill which will without a doubt help me in any career choice I will undertake,” says Benedek, a double major in international affairs and Spanish.

Dimitrov, an international affairs major as well, says he found his work enlightening as he researched the relationship between soldiers and civilians in Bulgaria during the war, as well as economic or demographic changes and the spreading of epidemics.

“I am very happy to be researching the region where I was born and grew up, and I thank Mr. Sanborn for giving me the opportunity and urging me to begin the project,” he says.

Both students, however, had to cope with how difficult it is to find reliable information from that time period.

Dimitrov had to alter his focus somewhat, concentrating more on the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 that preceded World War I. Benedek, meanwhile, says she too had to work diligently to find relevant information, a search that led her to understand the difficult conditions her countrymen faced during the war.

Romanians, she said, suffered greatly under German occupation and had to be creative and persistent in finding ways to advance the war effort.

“The Romanian army was ill equipped, lacking proper uniforms, weapons, ammunition and training. However, they still fought well,” she says. “In addition, what the civilians could not do with weapons they did with their cunning. Many peasants had set up communication networks where they would relate enemy positions and plans to other areas of the country and would spread propaganda meant to boost Romanian troop morale.”

The complexity of the research as well as the one-on-one relationship they have with their instructor is something that Sanborn believes will serve both students well in their academic endeavors.

“These are skills they are developing that are valuable not only for their academic careers but also for students considering going on and doing graduate work,” Sanborn says. “These are skills that aren’t just useful for academic research; these are things a lot of people do in their daily work lives.”

Benedek and Dimitrov said the atmosphere at Lafayette provides them educational opportunities they wouldn’t find at larger schools.

“I am happy I came here as opposed to a larger school due to the fact that professors go out of their way to help you in any matter, even if unrelated to their expertise,” Benedek says. “They see potential and help you achieve it.”

Dimitrov is involved on campus with the German Club, Model U.N. Club, Landis Community Outreach Center, the Foundation for the Awareness and Alleviation of Poverty (FAAP) and the International Students Association (ISA).

Benedek is the secretary of FAAP and helped organize its “Will Sing for Food” concert, which raised money for the Boys and Girls Club of Easton. She also is a Posse Scholar, a tutor in Spanish and government and law, and worked as a proctor for the Foreign Language Lab in Pardee Hall.

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