This January, a small number of Bowdoin history majors visited cities in France, Chile and England to dig deep into archives and pull out primary documents that opened windows onto history. Over the summer, two students did archival research in Chile and in Wisconsin.
Jennifer McMorrow ’14, Hillary Miller ’14, Georgia Whitaker ’14 and Jack Mensik ’14 traveled during winter break with funding from the Bowdoin history department’s Paul Nyhus Travel Grants. Eduardo Castro ’14 and Whitaker used the grants for research trips this summer. The awards range from $250 to $2,000, and are given to students to do archival research anywhere in the world, whether that’s in a community in Maine or half the world away.
Since the Nyhus grant program was founded in 2006, the department has disbursed $33,450 to students working on a wide range of independent studies and honors projects. One recipient, Annabel Boeke ’12, used a Nyhus grant to travel to Buenos Aires to investigate public health campaigns to eradicate tuberculosis. This fall, she will start at Harvard Medical School. Scott McFarlane ’09 used a Nyhus grant to research the origins of pollution in the Androscoggin River, which flows through Brunswick, Maine. He is planning on attending Columbia University to pursue a Ph.D. in history. “Nyhus grants recipients are getting ready to attend to medical school, are working in the private sector, working in k-12 education and going to graduate school,” Associate Professor of History Matt Klingle noted. “The Nyhus grant gives you the tools to be successful in whatever endeavor you do by learning how to do independent research…and then producing something valuable that’s of lasting scholarly importance for generations to come.”
The grant honors the memory of Paul Nyhus (1935-2005), who taught European history at Bowdoin from 1966 to 2004 and also served as dean of students and of the college. “Paul was a generous and warm senior colleague,” Klingle remembered. “He exuded that wonderful combination of Midwestern modesty and Midwestern zest and exuberance for life.” After Nyhus died, his wife Katharine Watson, and his former students, friends and colleagues created an endowment in his name to fund student research.
Stephen Kusmierczak ’89, a student of Nyhus, was instrumental in creating the endowment, according to Bowdoin history professor Allen Wells. Kusmierczak recalled how Nyhus spent hours with him in his faculty office, guiding him on his honors project. Together they read and interpreted the middle German writings of Martin Luther and other 16th-century reformers. “Prof. Nyhus understood how the analysis of original, primary texts could add an important dimension to learning,” Kusmierczak wrote in an email. “Studying these texts provided richness and an exciting sense of new discovery, and Paul was very aware of how this effort contributed to my appreciation of the subject.”
Kusmierczak added that he, Nyhus’s wife and Wells all believed that an endowment to support travel for historical research “would faithfully honor Paul’s emphasis on original sources in his teaching.” Nyhus also encouraged students to study foreign languages to strengthen their studies and research projects, according to Wells, who is Bowdoin’s Roger Howell, Jr. Professor of History.
“The success of the Nyhus grants has been extraordinary,” Klingle continued. “It’s been a testament to [Paul's] vision of what makes Bowdoin a special place, even among liberal arts colleges. It’s a place where you come for a rigorous experience in the classroom, but can also translate that rigor of the classroom into independent, creative academic work.”