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Brittany Cochran Gerke

Degree: BA History

When did you graduate? May 2008

What were some of the most rewarding/influential classes in your major? Women’s History with Dr. Castro, WWI and WWII histories with Dr. Jones, Victorian Britain with Dr. Pauly

Where did you live? Conway Hall, Minton Hall (RIP), Bear Village, and then off-campus for the last couple years.

What groups did you belong to? Phi Alpha Theta (History honors fraternity), Alpha Chi (Honors fraternity)

Did you participate in any experiences outside the classroom in your major field? I didn’t volunteer for History Day during college, I didn’t even know it existed (we didn’t have it where I grew up). But I’ve volunteered for the last two years, judging both at regional and state competitions, and I absolutely love it. Those kids are so smart and work so hard, and it’s just inspiring. It reminds me why I loved history in the first place. I recommend it to college students, both as a resume builder and as a way to remember why we’re in this field.

What other experiences did you have that enriched your time as a student at UCA? I, Unfortunately, didn’t get to do any cool traveling. But I was close friends with a few people that did, and I highly recommend it. From what I hear, those experiences are enriching beyond what you could even imagine.

I did thoroughly enjoy doing research for my undergrad senior seminar paper. It’s one thing to read a book someone else researched and analyze that, but to actually go digging in primary sources and get your hands dirty (sometimes literally) in the actual history is absolutely priceless.

What did you plan to do with your degree? Honestly, I had no idea. I distinctly remember announcing at the end-of-the-year history department banquet that I was going to “make it up as I go along.” Not exactly a strategy I recommend, but it ended up working out for me.

How are you using your degree? I currently work for the National Archives and Records Administration at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. It’s the job I didn’t know then that I always wanted. I get to put my hands on history every single day!

What disciplinary skills do you use most often in your current job? The biggest skill I use is historical preservation. I also have to apply the historical analysis techniques I learned in college to determine whether the documents I’m working with are responsive to requests or not. And writing. Lots of writing!

What are your plans? What will your degree allow you to do/accomplish as you move forward? I’m pretty well settled in my career in the archives, but I’m toying with the idea of getting a Master’s degree in Public History. I’m really interested in bridging the gap between history as we’ve grown accustomed to it and this increasingly technology-driven digital world we live in. Even something as seemingly innocuous as social media has huge implications for history, with the way news breaks on Twitter before there’s even a press conference held, and the way things go viral. I’m endlessly fascinated by that, and hope to use my training as a “proper” historian to have an impact on how we’ll log these events & happenings into the historical record and make them accessible to future generations for research.

What is the most surprising/unexpected thing you learned about yourself during your time as a History student at UCA? Well it should be known that I didn’t start my tenure at UCA with the plan to major in history. It wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to have class, just a Gen Ed history class, with this one amazing professor who really made history come alive for me. She was so passionate and inspiring and I thought — yes. That’s what I want to be. I had no idea if I COULD be that, but the history department at UCA is made up of amazing folks who believe in you and help you reach your full potential. Over the course of my four years at UCA, I grew into a confident, capable person. Every year spent there just reaffirmed that I was where I was supposed to be and that I was doing what I was supposed to do with my life. It’s true what they say about “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I mean, sure, some days require more coffee than others, but at the end of the day, I’m doing what I had no idea I always wanted to do, and UCA helped me get here.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get a BA in History? Get involved. Half the reason I didn’t know what I was doing was because I didn’t know what was out there. Intern somewhere (say, the Clinton Library?). Talk to your professors. Yes, they are scary omniscient beings who are in charge of whether you pass/fail, but they’re also compassionate and WANT you to succeed. They really are your best resource!

Also, most archives will let you take photographs of the documents, so save yourself some spare change and bring a good camera instead of making 1000 copies of research. And this is just a fun little quote I have hanging at my desk. It reminds me why I’m doing this and why I love it so much: “So little people like me have to keep the true story alive. That way, when the revolution ends, and people come looking for the history, we can say, ‘here it is – we kept it for you.”-Mauriel Joslyn