Recent history grad discusses academic journey and future plans
Nicole Harry ’19
Intern, Museum of Russian Icons (2019)
University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler’s Ph.D. program
What led to your interest in Russian, European, and Eurasian studies?
“I originally came to Lafayette intending to be a chemistry major. I took a comparative politics class on post-Soviet states after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was fascinated by the transformation of these countries—how so many different variations in economic, social, and political structures developed from one shared starting point. I decided that I wanted to learn more about the Soviet Union and Russia, as they were something I had often heard spoken of but did not really understand. Through this process I also began to take classes with other members of the REES department and truly enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Russia, and realized that Soviet history absolutely could interest me for a lifetime.”
How did your internship experience in Florence, Italy, influence your studies back at Lafayette?
“I was extremely fortunate to take part in the research internship to Florence with Professor [Anthony] Cummings and Professor [Diane Cole] Ahl. This program initially appealed to me as it merged my two interests, science and history, through its focus on Italian Renaissance art history and restoration. What I took away from this experience was an understanding of the different ways in which one could apply an academic skill set. I realized that the same elements which I loved chemistry for also existed in the humanities, and if I truly wanted to pursue a humanities degree I could apply similar skill sets with an application I actually cared about: better understanding people and their stories. Additionally, I came to realize the roles academics play beyond teaching in a classroom. I also gained a sense of independence that I could live and learn in a foreign country, which greatly helped my move to Russia.”
How did mentors at Lafayette influence you?
“I did work with both Professor [Joshua] Sanborn and Professor [Rebekah] Pite, but I cannot do my experience at Lafayette justice without expressing my gratitude to Professor [Lindsay] Ceballos of the REES department. I took my first class with her my junior fall, and prioritized being in at least one of her classes every semester for the rest of my time at Lafayette. Her courses cultivated my interest in the role of culture as both a driving historical force and as an invaluable source for studying history. She also worked with me extensively outside of classroom hours to discuss my postgraduate plans and served as a member of my honors thesis committee. She stands as my role model of a young female academic, and I do not believe I would be pursuing a Ph.D. with my current research interests if not for her mentorship.”
How did your time in Russia influence your upcoming studies at UNC?
“My time in Russia is absolutely imperative to my work in graduate school. I did not really settle on Russia and Russian history until my junior year, and I had absolutely no Russian language skills, which are extremely important for working with primary sources and archival material. I had no other option if I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. After attending the Middlebury Language Davis School of Russian the summer after my junior year (2018, a complete immersion program where a contract is signed to only speak, listen to, and read Russian for two months), I realized that not only did I need to continue improving my language skills, but I also needed to spend time in Russia if this was the history I wanted to study and if I wanted to get into graduate school. Thus, I have taken this past year to live in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and continue to take intensive language courses, as well as assist in a school for Russians learning English. I likely would not have been accepted into a graduate program without this experience.”