Being the Change

Validating my potential

A Q&A with Paul McDowell ('11) on his HIST 395 research project

A Q&A with Paul McDowell ('11) on his HIST 395 research project
Rising junior Paul McDowell is a member of the Honors Program and the JMU Honors Learning Community. In addition to his history degree, he is pursuing a minor in Italian. He completed his HIST 395 research project about the 19th-century lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans. He is continuing that research for his honors thesis and will be presenting his research at several conferences next year.

Where are you from? Why did you pick JMU?

I was born and raised in Atlanta. As a high-school junior, I decided that I wanted to go out of state. JMU was the most affordable out-of-state school I had applied to and, once I had been accepted into the Honors Program and its Honors Learning Community, I was sold.

What would you tell a student considering becoming a JMU history major?

The four or five professors I have had for classes have been the four or five best teachers I've ever had, from kindergarten all the way up. That's worth it right there. They spend an incredible amount of time with you.

When did you realize the work was going to be demanding?

The second semester in one of my Gen. Ed. classes — World History 1500 to present — I bombed my first paper. I thought it was going to be easy, and I just completely bombed it. That's when I thought, OK, they're serious, and I had better get serious too. The next paper I aced, so I think I learned that lesson.

What has HIST 395 done for you?

I believe this class has been a validation of my potential as a serious student. HIST 395 requires brains, critical skills and determination, but it also requires heart. You have got to enjoy what you are doing.

Do you see yourself as a historian?

I do not see myself as a true historian, yet. The discipline of history is too complex for me to say that at this point in my collegiate career. For my career, I plan on utilizing both my history degree and my Italian to work for the foreign service or the Italian division of a major international corporation such as Coca Cola, Delta, UPS or the like.

What's it like to be so knowledgeable about your topic?

HBO did a film about the lynching featuring actor Christopher Walken. It wasn't entirely true. The real incident was actually a lot more brutal than they depicted it, and they added a romance between an Italian boy and an Irish girl that probably wouldn't have happened in that community; but it was impressive that someone cared to do a film about this little known incident.

Learn more about HIST 395 and read "Making Historians" in the Fall 2009 Madison.

Published: Saturday, August 1, 2009

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

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