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College of Arts and Sciences

History and English Students Present Research at the University of Pennsylvania

English and History Undergraduate students.

Seton Hall University students (from left to right): J. R. Rizzo, Andrew Cox, Austin DelSontro, and Samantha Klein.

Four undergraduate students from Seton Hall University presented their research at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Andrew Cox (History), Austin DelSontro (History), Samantha Klein (English), and J. R. Rizzo (English) were each selected from a competitive field to participate in the 2024 Undergraduate Research Workshop.

This program, which is open only to students from institutions that are members of the MCEAS consortium, pairs each participating undergraduate student working on a research project in early American studies with a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow at the McNeil Center who serves as a mentor during the research process. According to the MCEAS website, "the Workshop provides a structured environment in which students can come together with undergraduates from other institutions, as well as graduate students and faculty, to discuss the ideas, source materials and methods of their own research."

It was "an amazing experience," according to Klein. "While I was initially terrified to hear their feedback, the fellows were kind and offered both compliments and advice on how to expand my project." She added, "If I had not participated in the workshop and received the fellows’ feedback, I would not have seen the potential for my paper to be turned into a larger project."

Faculty with Rizzo, Cox, DelSontro and Klein

Seton Hall University students and faculty sponsors (left to right): Sean Harvey, Russell Sbriglia, J. R. Rizzo, Andrew Cox, Austin DelSontro, Samantha Klein, and Mary Balkun.

The students’ varied topics reflects the possibilities for doing research in colonial American and early U.S. history, literature, and culture at Seton Hall. Faculty members in the departments of English and History advised these projects and sponsored the applications. Andrew Cox’s presentation was titled "Artery of Change: Financialization, Crisis, and the Market Revolution along the Erie Canal," on the famous waterway and the development of the U.S. economy in the early 19th century. Austin DelSontro presented "Jeffersonian Ideals and Sectional Rifts: The Paradoxical President without a Party and the Prelude to Disunion," on the presidency of John Tyler (1841-1845). Cox and DelSontro are each writing senior theses for Honors in History under the direction of Sean P. Harvey, Ph.D., associate professor of History. Samantha Klein discussed how men co-opted the narratives of colonial-era women in "Hannah Duston and her Damned Sister: Uncovering the Injustices in Female Infanticide Cases." It emerged from the class "Women and Literature II" with Mary Balkun, Ph.D., professor of English. Turning to one of antebellum America’s most famous writers, J. R. Rizzo presented, "Examining the Veiled Prejudice(s) of Edgar Allan Poe’s Fiction." It grew out of his class "American Romanticism and Social Reform," with Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D., associate professor of English.

Students with Dr. Christopher Bilodeau.

J.R. Rizzo, Austin DelSontro, Andrew Cox, and URW coordinator Christopher Bilodeau, Ph.D.

The Undergraduate Research Workshop, which was directed this year by Christopher Bilodeau, Ph.D., of Dickinson College, began on February 9. Participating students met one another and their mentors, sharing information about their projects. They also received a private tour of the University of Pennsylvania's Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. The day concluded with the McNeil Center Friday Seminar, a leading venue for presenting research in the field of early American studies.

The second part of the Undergraduate Research Workshop took place on April 19-20. Participating students had the opportunity to discuss research and writing with Professor Elise Mitchell of Princeton University, who presented a paper at a McNeil Center seminar on Friday, April 19. The students presented their research at a conference at the McNeil Center the following day, Saturday April 20. Each student’s formal presentation was accompanied with a prepared comment by the student’s mentor. Jacob Meyers (University of Pennsylvania) mentored Rizzo, Francis Russo (University of Pennsylvania) mentored Cox, Amanda Summers (Temple University) mentored Klein, and Duangkamol Tantirunkgij (City University of New York Graduate Center) mentored DelSontro. Following the mentors’ comments, the students had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience, composed of undergraduate participants, faculty sponsors, MCEAS fellows and others.

The participating Pirates praised the workshop. "It has been an enlightening experience taking part in this year's MCEAS URW," DelSontro offered. "I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of researching, meeting together with other bright scholars and learning about other fascinating topics from early American history." For Rizzo, "It was an honor to have worked alongside the professors and fellows at University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies. The experience gave valuable insight on the graduate research process, informing my writing for the future." Cox agreed, calling the URW "one of the most unique opportunities I've had in undergrad, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to work in history on this level."

Established in 2008, students from such schools as Brigham Young University, Bryn Mawr College, Catholic University, Fordham University, Gettysburg College, Iona University, Johns Hopkins University, Lehigh University, New York University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Temple University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Pennsylvania have participated in the MCEAS Undergraduate Research Workshop. Seton Hall students have presented their research at the URW on several occasions, including 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2023.

Categories: Arts and Culture, Research