Six Doctoral Students in History Receive Their PhDs in 2016

At the college convocation ceremony on May 12, six doctoral students from the Department of History and Art History were recognized for completing their degrees. This is the largest cohort of History PhD students ever to graduate in a single year. 

This year’s cohort represents the continued growth of the program as well as its increasing diversification. These newly-minted PhDs were trained in a variety of fields, including all periods of U.S. history (colonial, 19th-century, and 20th-century) and one specialist on eastern Europe. 

For the students themselves, the successful dissertation defenses and the graduation ceremony in May represented the culmination of a long period of hard work.  The average time to degree in humanities fields is around eight years, which means that the successful completion of a doctorate marks not only a major academic achievement but also the closure of a lengthy phase of life. 

It is a phase that this year’s graduates are happy to leave behind, however much they enjoyed their time in the program.  Remarked Gwen White (now Dr. Gwen White), “Glad, happy, elated, ecstatic—that's what I feel about graduating.  I could not have done it without the support I received from the history department, starting from the day I entered the program.”  She also made a point of thanking her advisor, Dr. Cindy Kierner. 

Dr. Tracy Fisher, another of this year’s graduates, has been at Mason since 2002, and finished her M.A. program as a part-time student in 2008 before starting her doctoral program.  She said, “I've had a great time in the History PhD program at Mason,” and made special mention of her “wonderful and patient” advisor, Dr. Alison Landsberg, as well as the rest of her dissertation committee.  She also thanked Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri, who had taught her when she was still an M.A. student and who supported her all along the way (and whom she is now struggling, she reports, to call “Rosie,” the name Dr. Zagarri uses among peers). 

The department is proud of the size and quality of this year’s cohort of graduates, and anticipates great things from them. 

Here is a full list of the graduates, their dissertation titles, and their committees:

Dr. Lee Ann Cafferata
“Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond, Virginia: A Study of Industrial Survival, 1873-1892”
Major Professor: Paula Petrik
Committee Members: Michael O'Malley, Tyler Cowen

Dr. Tracy Fisher
“'For Us the Living': How America Buried its World War I Overseas Dead”
Major Professor: Alison Landsberg
Committee Members: Christopher Hamner, Michael O'Malley, Meredith Lair

Dr. Alexandru Lesanu
“A Sweet History in Bitter Times: Refining Sugar in the Transnistrian Borderlands (1898-2015)”
Major Professor: Steven Barnes
Committee Members: T. Mills Kelly, Paula Petrik

Dr. George Oberle
“Institutionalizing the Information Revolution: Debates over the National University in the Early American Republic”
Major Professor: Rosemarie Zagarri
Committee Members: Jane Turner Censer, Paula Petrik

Dr. Ralph Suiter
“"Vulgarizing American Children": Navigating Respectability and Commercial Appeal in Early Newspaper Comics”
Major Professor: Paula Petrik
Committee Members: Ellen Todd, Jennifer Ritterhouse

Dr. Gwendolyn White
“Commerce and Community: Plantation Life at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 1754 to 1799”
Major Professor: Cynthia A. Kierner
Committee Members: Rosemarie Zagarri, Zachary Schrag, Dennis Pogue


Tracy Fisher, Gwendolyn White, Lee Ann Cafferata, and George Oberle
Tracy Fisher, Gwendolyn White, Lee Ann Cafferata, and George Oberle


George Oberle and Rosemarie Zagarri
George Oberle and Rosemarie Zagarri


Gwendolyn White and Cindy Kierner
Cindy Kierner and Gwendolyn White


Tracy Fisher and Alison Landsberg
Tracy Fisher and Alison Landsberg