BA in History

Christopher Robitaille, 2020

Christopher Robitaille

How did you decide on the history major?

I have always been interested in history. Growing up, I would watch TV with my parents. I come from a military family so most of the time we would watch either the news, the History Channel, the Military Channel or the Discovery Channel. So, from a young age I learned to enjoy consuming information, especially about history and political events.

As I was finishing my associate’s degree in political science, I began to study the debates between historians on major political events like the McCarthy era and the Watergate scandal. The more I studied these events, I realized history was nothing like they teach in high school where the focus is on dates, names, and definitive answers. History involves a lot of scholarly debate between schools of thought and that is what I love the most about it.

Upon arriving at Mason, I was still deciding between majoring in either global affairs or history. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue my study of politics or begin my formal studies in history. But then I took my first history course at Mason on the study of burials in medieval Europe. That class showed me that history is not just about the events we typically think of like the Civil War, Cold War, Industrialization, the Suffrage or Civil Rights movement, and so on. I never knew that the study of how civilizations buried their dead was even a field until I came to Mason. I then realized everyone has a niche in this field and we all participate in some form of history. In that class I decided to pursue history as my only major and aim to get into the History Honors program.

Are you minoring or double majoring in anything else? If so, how do the two work together – or separately?

I am minoring in Criminology. So far, my studies in criminology have involved wide scale theories, which is something I am not used to as a history major. My mind has had to work differently in criminology because I must apply large theories to account for patterns of criminal behavior over time. This is different than the way I approach history, which is a more narrow topical focus and a greater attention to individual instances. My knowledge of historical periods has helped me apply the proper social background facts to better understand the crime rates in a given time.

What have you learned in a history class that really surprised you/changed your perspective?

I’ve learned the importance of putting myself in the shoes of those in the past. Its surprising how hard this can be to achieve and even find among scholarly work. For example, in my honors program I study the burials of vampires, witches and saints. Today, especially for vampires and witches, people characterize these beings as ‘superstitions.’ They may be superstitions to us, but they were once considered a fact of life. It is difficult to calculate the fear individuals would have had in regards to these beings because their power and existence has been scientifically disproven. In order to truly understand why people believed in these beings, what they represented to society, and why they reacted the way they did, Historians must put themselves into the minds of those living at the time. As Historians, we must remove our inherent biases when conducting formal analysis because that’s when the real scholarship happens.

Tell us about your dream occupation…

I don’t have one dream occupation, per se. I have many different goals I plan on achieving. My immediate goal after finishing my undergraduate studies is to attend law school. After practicing law, I would like to return to academia to get my Ph.D. in history and become a professor. Since I love being in academia, I think it would be fitting to return and finish out my career as a professor and make an impact on students as my professors have made on me.

Ultimately, I don’t like to confine myself to one occupation. I love dabbling in different disciplines and occupations. Since high school, I have gone from wanting to be a dentist, a lawyer, an historian, maybe even a business owner. Any opportunity or challenge where I can excel or make an impact is an opportunity I am willing to take.

Have you had any internships or interesting jobs or volunteer experience? Tell us about it/them.

I am a leader on the university’s Honor Committee. On the committee, I get to hear honor code cases and help proctor exams as well as advocate for and educate others on academic integrity alongside other members of the Honor Committee. It is a very important piece of our academic community at Mason and I am lucky to be allowed to participate.

I am also on the Community Adjudication Board (CAB). On CAB, I am tasked with helping resolve cases of alleged violations of the university's Code of Student Conduct. As with the Honor Committee, I feel very lucky to participate on such an important university function which upholds the George Mason community values.

I have not had any internships in the field of history as of yet. I’ve focused primarily on my history honors program research project which has been a long time coming. However, I do have a job that I love as a swim coach for Nation's Capital Swim Club. Getting to share my knowledge of something that I am passionate about with other people, as I do with swimming, is very fulfilling.

Any accomplishments you’re proud of? Opportunities you’ve taken advantage of? Brag a little!

I would say I am proud of having used my time getting to know the professors we have at Mason. They have been extremely encouraging and have made me feel more like a colleague than a student. Their advice has helped me stay focused and grow as a researcher, writer and a student. Without these relationships, I would not have been able to participate in the other academic opportunities I have.

I am also taking advantage of the history honors program where I get to work with one of my favorite professors on a research topic of my choice. I have chosen to focus on the concept of "deviancy" in mortuary archaeology, specifically in medieval Europe. The honors program is approaching graduate level work so it has been a fun experience seeing what it is like to work at the next level.

I will be presenting my honors research at the Phi Alpha Theta (history honors society) Biennial conference. I will be the first student from Mason to attend this conference and present,which makes the experience a little more special for me. I am also excited for the peer review of my research.

I am also participating in the Mid Atlantic Conference on Academic Integrity as a representative of Mason. I was a leader in determining the topics for the student portion of the conference, specifically on outreach, sanctioning and the effects of cheating in college on work place performance. I will also be directing round table discussions with other student representatives of the Academic Integrity community from other institutions.

Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.

I keep every book I have read. I am not a fan of technology, so I always read a physical copy of books. I meticulously catalog them all in a journal and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s become a little excessive over the years, but one of my goals is to be important enough to open a library with a section for all the books I’ve read. I got this idea when I visited the Jefferson building at the Library of Congress for the first time.