Wilkes holds the Wyoming Valley Undergraduate History Conference


The Beacon / Megan Stanley

Courtney McMonagle, a senior history major, presented her capstone research project titled “The Magic of Reformation Era Europe: Witchcraft and the Courts.” The project focused on how different European countries reacted to the witchcraft hysteria.

Megan Stanley, News Writer

Last week, Wilkes University hosted the Wyoming Valley Undergraduate History Conference.

Students from King’s College, Marywood University, The University of Scranton, and Wilkes University all delivered presentations.

Keynote remarks were made by Brian A Pavlac of King’s College and senior Wilkes student Sarah O’Hara.

Pavlac discussed the contrast and overlap between historical fiction and history itself, using the Game of Thrones as an example.

During his speech, Pavlac said that: “History is written by the winners.”

He credited George R. Martin for being able to tell the story of both sides, because as a historical writer he has the freedom to write from multiple viewpoints, and shows that all the characters are heroes within their own narrative.

“It’s the reason why it makes such great literature,” Pavlac told the audience.

In her final year at Wilkes, O’Hara welcomed the visitors to the campus on behalf of the history department staff and students, she discussed the experience of being an undergraduate researcher.

“It’s an opportunity that allows us as student researchers to learn for ourselves, but also allows us to become teachers and to share the subject matter we’ve been researching. It can be difficult and trying at times, but we all know how good it feels when we hand it in and we know we’ve done our best work,” O’Hara told the audience.

The conference was split into three panels. The first panel featured three presentations on U.S. History, ranging from the Cold War to the Jesuit takeover of the University of Scranton. The second panel was about women’s history and explored things from witchcraft to the experience of Native American women. The third and final panel was titled ‘European History,” covering events such as the rise of Adolf Hitler to the French Revolution.

The second panel, Women’s history, boasted three Wilkes students and was chaired by Dr. Paul Riggs, Dean of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences of Wilkes University, and the discussant was Nicole Mares of King’s College.

Courtney McMonagle, senior history major at Wilkes, discussed her capstone research project, which discussed how court system impacted the way countries would react to witchcraft hysteria, arguing that the stronger the legal system the lower the number of witch trials.

Women tended to be the most affected by the witch trials, McMonagle explained, saying that women were usually poorer than men and also worked with women and the sick, which meant they could be easily blamed for anything that went wrong.

The reformation also contributed to creating a more unstable atmosphere that impacted the witch trials during the period. “It’s easier to blame witchcraft, rather than the threat of war. It’s easier to blame something you really can’t explain,” McMonagle said.

The presentation then moved on to explain the different court systems in Europe, looking at the Holy Roman Empire, Scotland, France, Italy and England.

The Holy Roman Empire was split up into several different Kingdoms, with very decentralized power. McMonagle explained that it was the “heartland of the witchcraft craze, instability and centralization of power and all this fear that was already present led to these chain reaction witch hunts … there was nothing in place to keep back that mob mentality that took over.”

Scotland had the highest execution rate in Europe, France had many secular courts with judges that were skeptical of witchcraft, and in Italy the Roman Inquisition was highly concerned with keeping everyone catholic, rather than witchcraft itself.

England has one of the lowest rates of witch trials in all of Europe. McMonagle credited this to the legal system which included judges and juries meaning that often friends and family members were responsible for deciding if someone was a witch or not. “If you were guilty you were killed, so now thats on your friends, your family, your townspeople who are deciding whether or not your guilty.” Prosecution was also very expensive, which was also given as a reason for low trial stats.

Nicole Kolessar, a junior at Wilkes, discussed the impact boarding schools had on Native American females.

In the 19th century, Europeans that had moved to America made it law that Native Americans must assimilate into their society. To do this, the government created boarding schools for the Native American children. “It was less expensive to educate Indians than it was to kill them,” Kolessar said.

Pupils were striped of their clothing and hair and put in regulated uniforms at the schools. There was a heavy emphasis on domestic sciences, to prepare the children to become housewives and have vocational training for jobs.

“Discipline was a major aspect in boarding school education systems, every aspect of student life incorporated strict rules and regulations that students had to follow.” Kolessar told the audience, adding that punishment, including physical beatings, was immediate. Female students were also a target for priests who often sexually assaulted their students.

Kolessar explained that after their time in the boarding schools, many pupils experience depression or post traumatic stress disorder.

“Assimilation was not completely success, it made Native Americans stronger and prouder of their heritage” Kolessar credited the women who wrote about their experiences so the world could know the truth, explaining that most historians at the time thought the schools were a positive programmes.

Mackenzie Egan, a junior English and history major at Wilkes University, also presented during the second panel and discussed how Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe changed the lives of women in the 19th century.

Other Wilkes Students who presented at the panel included Mauri Bohan who presented on human rights and ethical concerns during the Cold War. Fast Food in the US was discussed by Robbie Petrovich. Patrick Gilhooley explored how religious and cultural toleration shaped Poland.