Clara Walsh '12

A Varied Storyteller
Professional scholars like assistant professor Mary Jane Maxwell (history) routinely publish papers and make presentations at national conferences. It’s not so routine when an undergraduate student is publishing and presenting shoulder-to-shoulder with professional academics.

On October 8 in Eugene, Ore., Clara Walsh ‘12 made a presentation on the development of art and architectural traditions in the Islamic world at the Seventh Northwest World History Association Conference. The presentation was based on an article Clara co-wrote with Maxwell “Teaching Early Islamic Art and Architecture: A Model of Cultural Exchange” which will be published early next year in the world history peer-reviewed journal The Middle Ground.

Walsh was the only undergraduate student to present at the conference where she had the chance to meet well-known historians and compare notes with graduate students. “These were people who really loved what they were doing,” Walsh said. “I realized ‘hey, historians have fun!’”

An anthropology major with a history minor from Litchfield, Conn., Walsh had lined up an independent study this semester with Maxwell, who specializes in cross-cultural contacts between Christians and Muslims in the late medieval era. In July, Maxwell called Walsh to see if she’d be interested in co-writing the article.

The collaboration resulted in a paper on how the emerging Islamic Empire, from about 630-750, borrowed art and architecture from Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Persian, and other traditions. The narrative demonstrates what we think of as “Islamic” really incorporates aesthetic ideals from many cultures. This is an idea that gives much more dimension to Islamic culture when presented to elementary and high school students.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and now I feel like I’m committed to go to graduate school,” Walsh said, “I give Mary Jane a lot of credit for helping me through the whole process. I see myself as a passionate, hardworking student but I’m not an A-plus prodigy. She saw my potential. I don’t think I would have gotten this chance at the other schools I applied to.”

“This type of mentoring is common at GMC,” echoed Maxwell. “I was able to show Clara what scholarship entails, how scholars present ideas, and how the peer-review process works. It’s an experience that will give her a real advantage when she does move on to graduate school.”

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