When Yuba College Professor Travis Smith finally accomplished his goal of establishing an historical society at Yuba College last semester, he didn’t realize just how quickly students would warm up to the idea.
“The first semester exceeded all expectations,” Smith said. “We were able to write a constitution, elect officers, raise money, the participants wrote excellent papers, and we still had time to publish the first volume of our journal.”
Now entering its second semester as the only academic student organization on the Marysville campus, the Yuba College Historical Student Association, referred to by its members as the Historical Society, has already expanded to seven members so far this fall. “There are a few new members this semester,” Smith said, adding that one former member transferred to a four-year university over the summer.
Student president Curtis Jeffords echoed Smith’s sentiments. “I’m definitely excited about it,” he said. “We are always welcoming new members, and I get a good vibe from the members we have.”
Smith, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Barbara, thought of creating a historical society when he noticed that some of his students wanted to learn a little more about history and historical writing. While many students only take history in order to transfer, Smith could see these students were different.
“I noticed that there were a handful of students who were interested in the past and curious about what historians try to accomplish,” Smith reflected. “I floated the idea of a historical society to a few of these students, including Jason Morton and Curtis Jeffords, and the next thing we know, we are up and running.”
The purpose of the society, according to Smith, was originally just to organize and stimulate history-minded students. “However, the society evolved quite quickly into a venue where students research a particular topic of their choosing and write a ten to fifteen page paper following disciplinary standards,” Smith said. YCHSA members now write a research paper each semester on a historical topic of their choice. Members are encouraged to enroll simultaneously in History 47, a one-unit research and writing class that is fulfilled by the same research paper.
Mathurin Kasten said he joined the Historical Society to meet with like-minded people and to write the paper. “I joined the Historical Society to meet with other history majors for one, and also to work on a research paper,” he said. “For once, I was in the same room as guys who loved the same academic thing as me, something you could almost never get in a junior college classroom.”
Jeffords, the president of the YCHSA, said he joined the society to get experience writing a paper and especially to discuss history. “We like to get official business out of the way as quickly as possible,” he explained about the meetings. “It is not that we don’t take it seriously, but the meat of the historical society for us is being able to sit in a seminar-style setting where we can share ideas about different historical topics.” Jeffords added that most of the meetings are devoted to discussing the progress and topics of the members” papers.
The paper-writing process begins with students brainstorming a historical question they would like to answer, according to Professor Smith. The society meets one Monday each month, and at the first meeting the members talk about their progress.
“They come to the next meeting with a well thought out question and a list of primary sources and secondary publications that will help them address that question,” Smith said. “During the third session students will have already looked at many of those sources and started to develop a thesis and outline. Rough drafts are due for peer review during the fourth meeting. Peer review is conducted at the fifth meeting, and final drafts are due at the six meeting.”
The papers are then printed in the YCHSA official journal, the Herodotus. “We submit the YCHSA journal to a committee made up of distinguished Yuba College faculty who determine which paper was most thoroughly researched and well written,” Smith explained. The determined winner receives a $50 cash award from the society and his name put on the YCHSA plaque.
“The papers exceeded my expectations,” Smith said about the papers presented last semester. The topics ranged from the Chinese impact on Marysville and Roosevelt’s court-packing plan to the Fort Laramie Treaty and the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.
Kasten, whose paper discussed Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb in World War II, admitted he was a bit skeptical in the beginning. “I joined the society to work on a research paper that I never thought I would be able to do,” he said. Now, he said that he will transfer to San Jose State with the ability to research and write a good paper.
Jeffords’ paper discussed the implications of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Jason Morton, the president of YCHSA last semester, wrote a paper discussing the treatment of the Chinese in Marysville during the late 19th century, and Ron Moore discussed the struggle between Franklin Roosevelt and the Supreme Court that led Roosevelt to propose his infamous Court-Packing Plan.
Morton has since transferred to UC Berkeley, where he is majoring in history.
Moore, Jeffords, and Kasten all plan to transfer to CSU universities next semester, where they will pursue history degrees.
Still, Professor Smith says the society doesn’t just benefit history majors. “The analytical and critical thinking skills that the society fosters can be applied to any discipline,” he said. Smith, a member of the American Historical Association, says it would have been nice if YCHSA had been around when he was a beginning college student.
“Not very many people in their late teens and early twenties want to talk about history, so having a group of people who enjoy the subject as much as me would have been nothing but a plus.”