Alumni Feature: Neill De Paoli

My Work with the National Park Service: Lexington National Historical Park

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Neill De Paoli in 18th century dress/kit, at home, Kittery, ME.

I grew up in upstate New York in an area with a rich prehistory and history. The Mohawk River Valley was home to Native Americans for over 7,000 years and Dutch and English settlers by the late 1600s. I have fond memories as a boy exploring the grounds of the Saratoga National Historical Battlefield Park and the back streets of downtown Schenectady that was home to a small Dutch farming and trading town over 300 years ago.

I have followed my childhood fascination with history into a career as a professional historian and archaeologist. For the last 40 years I have studied and written about English settlement and Anglo-Indian and English-French relations in early northern New England.

This past year I fulfilled a longtime dream of working for the National Park Service when I was hired as a seasonal interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington, Massachusetts. I return to the historic park for my second season this June.

The Minute Man National Historical Park is a beautiful, sprawling 970-acre complex that includes two visitor centers, more than five miles of the historic Battle Road, nearly two dozen colonial-era houses and the ruins of countless other early homes set within a blend of fields, woodlands, and marshlands bisected by the Concord River.

The more than one million people that visit the park annually walk through a historic landscape much as it appeared on the morning and early afternoon of April 19th 1775.

What has made my experience as an interpretive park ranger so enjoyable has been working at a historic park so closely tied to the origins of the United States. There is nothing more exciting than walking down the same road and passing by some of the same houses that the British regulars did on their early morning march on the Bay Road to Concord and their afternoon retreat back to Boston.

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Performing musket firing demonstration – prime & load, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

I often lead outdoor presentations unraveling the bloody confrontation between British regulars and local Minute men and militia at the North Bridge and the running battle that followed. I focus on connecting the audience to the unfolding “story,” making them feel that they were part of this historic event as civilian bystanders or American or British military participants. I especially enjoy how the audiences view the events that unfolded on April the 19th.

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Performing musket firing demonstration – firing, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

The highlight of my season is my time spent as a historic reenactor depicting a Minute Man posted at the Hartwell Tavern. This dwelling and tavern was home to the family of Ephriam and Elizabeth Hartwell. Their three sons Samuel, John, and Isaac were part of a company of Minute Men that fought in Concord on April 19th. The Hartwell tavern was also one of several “witness” houses that the British troops passed by on the Bay Road on their way to and from Concord. As a Revolutionary War reenactor, I am dressed and equipped as the three Hartwell men were when they rushed out to join their comrades on the early morning of April the 19th; civilian clothing, felt hat, musket, cartridge box, powder horn, bayonet, and wooden canteen. For the next 6 hours I join my reenactor comrades as we take turns explaining to the often large crowds of children and adults what it was like being a Minute Men in the months leading up to the outbreak of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19th 1775. For both the reenactors and the audience the highlights of the “Who Were the Minute Men” program are the audience joining the Minute Man reenactors in a 10-minute military drill followed by a live musket firing demonstration.

The end of my work day is nearly as enjoyable and satisfying as the previous 8 hours. I often unwind by walking the grounds of the Minute Man National Historical Park. Oft times, I walk a couple of miles down the Battle Road where I enjoy the quiet and the slowly setting sun while I explore the ruins of some of the houses flanking the Battle Road or the sites of the “fire fights” that took place between the British regulars and the Minute Men and militia at Merrian’s Corner and Bloody Angle. How fitting for me that I now work at a prominent Revolutionary War site that I could only dream about as a boy.

Student Feature: Austin Garcia

During the Spring semester of 2016, I had the privilege of expanding my interests outside the history discipline.

As part of the Mellon Scholars program I was able to build upon my skills in digital media within my history related major. As a Television Producer for the City Holland, I pursued what most would refer to as “communications” internship. Yet, I still found that my extensive skills in critical analysis, research, editing, allowed me to produce engaging yet comprehendible video for web and television.

city-of-hollandThe supervisors for this internship encourage students to pursue projects that students find an interest in. With a large availability of technological resources, and a variety of local events, this internship will provide for the student majoring in history an option to expand his/her interests in the digital humanities, an ever growing field of study encompassing a variety of disciplines.

History Department Celebrates!

By Marc Baer

One of the great joys for History faculty at the end of the year is attending Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance in DeVos Fieldhouse. This year was no exception. Six of us mentored a total of 15 majors, from first-years to seniors. The breadth of the projects was stunning, which speaks to the remarkable diversity of interests in the department’s majors.

Once again, History was the leading humanities department in terms of number of presenters.

Here are just a few highlights:

Professor Jeanne Petit led a team of four students who spent part of the summer in the Library of Congress and then several weeks on campus, analyzing America’s 1918 United War Work Campaign.

There were posters on 19th-century Welsh national identity, the Herero rebellion in German South-West Africa, the church struggle in Nazi Germany, early 20th-century British music, the story of a Holland Vietnam War special forces veteran, and Sir Francis Drake.

Feel free to click on the available links, and enjoy!

Historians at Celebration, Second shot

Writing Personal Statements for Scholarship or Graduate School Applications

If you plan to apply for admission to a graduate program or for a grant or fellowship, you will need to write a personal statement. While all applications contain specific instructions, and you should definitely pay attention and tailor your statement to the program for which you are applying, there are some general principles that govern writing personal statements. Remember that you are writing an essay, and like any essay, it should have a clear purpose, strong organization, and impeccable grammar and syntax.

The personal statement should do the following:

Tell the department or organization:

  • who you are
  • what makes you tick
  • what separates you from other strong candidates
  • what special things you have done
  • what problem have you solved or challenge overcome, finishing with resolution.

Try to say something interesting about yourself, because people like stories and will use their perception of your story to evaluate your application. The structure need not be framed chronologically. Consider what might be a good point of entry.

Explain what has led you to consider your choice of degree (which will lead to some career outcome, e.g., Ph.D. in Rocket Science so I can train NASA astronauts). For a grant or fellowship, talk about why you want to do whatever it is that the grant funds.

Explain what is special (perhaps this is who) about the department that has caused you to apply to them. This means you have to do some homework and tells the department that you’ve done your homework. Consider if your story arc is relevant to the department. A Ph.D. in Rocket Science is not relevant to a department of history. On the other hand, don’t waste space on statements of the obvious, such as “Oxford is one of the greatest universities in the world.”

The answer to the first portion should be well over 50% of your statement; addressing the second will be perhaps 10-20% and the final response will be the rest.

After you have done a few drafts, ask someone who knows you reasonably well (or several such people), “What strikes you about me?” Ask yourself, “What is the most difficult obstacle I’ve overcome?” Or, “What was my watershed moment?” The answers will produce seeds of what’s interesting about you.

Show your draft to mentors or friends who can help you refine it.

When reading the final draft, ask, would a reader want more, or respond, “We’ve got to get this person here” ?

Keep in mind the following points:

  • Do not repeat things that are found other places in your application.
  • Essays are not lists. Be sure you are telling a story, not writing a list of your accomplishments.
  • Use the essay to talk about the development of your mind, your interests, your ambitions and your priorities. The details of your childhood are generally not relevant.
  • When you make big generalizations, it is a good idea to give an illustrative example.
  • Stay away from broad statements, unless you can explain them. For example, saying “My time in Antarctica changed my life” is not useful unless you can explain how it changed your life, and how that change is relevant to your application.
  • Avoid clichés or jargon of any kind. For example, it is generally not helpful to say that you value diversity, or that you are looking for a challenge. While these things may be true, you need to find a more specific, less clichéd way of talking about them.
  • Consider talking about books, experiences or ideas that have shaped your interests.
  • Remember that many programs do not conduct interviews, and so will not be able to ask you follow-up questions. You must explain yourself fully in your essay. Consider carefully the details you choose.
  • On the other hand, if the program does conduct interviews, you must be ready to expand on anything you mentioned in your application. If you are not prepared to discuss any element of your life in an interview, you should not include it in your application.

 

One approach to beginning the personal statement: Create a story board using post-its, which you can then move around until they are in the right order; then begin composing your story.