History a popular theme for Sweet Briar College’s 2016 Pannell Scholars

October 13, 2016 | By Janika Carey

Three members from the small but mighty Class of 2019 will spend the year delving into a topic they are passionate about — thanks to Sweet Briar’s Anne Gary Pannell Merit Scholarship. They are Shelby Benny, Amelia Currin and Madeline Widjaja.

Shelby Benny

Shelby Benny

Sponsored by the Honors Program, the scholarship rewards first-year students of exceptional initiative and ability with the opportunity to explore an area of interest more fully during their sophomore year.

This year, all three scholars are drawn to the history of the 20th century — particularly World War II and the years that preceded it — but they’re approaching it from different angles.

Benny’s project will take her to Munich, Germany, to investigate “The Origins of WWII: Exploration into a City of Revolution and Rebellion.” The history major from Dothan, Ala., says she wants her Pannell Scholarship to “accomplish significant historical research.”

Her primary tool? A camera.

“My project is a photography-focused exploration of the current status and perceptions of World War Two sites in Munich,” Bennys says.

The Bavarian city was central to the rise of the Nazi party and along with it, the start of World War II. Benny says she is intrigued by how Munich’s modern-day citizens carry on with their daily lives around these historic sites. She’s noticed that tourists, too, are often oblivious to the profound significance of the sites they are visiting.

“[There are tourists] snapping selfies at concentration camps, couples taking engagement photos where Nazi officials once held a political rally, and families vacationing in a hotel where Hitler and Mussolini met to form an alliance,” Benny explains. “I am excited to illustrate this phenomenon by digitally combining World War Two-era photos of Munich and modern shots taken from the same angle and position.”

One location will be the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. Benny hopes her project will serve as a memorial gallery for the tragedies of the Holocaust.

“I have found that many history students disconnect themselves from the reality of the Holocaust in order to study it more comfortably,” she says.

Amelia Currin

Amelia Currin

Currin, a prospective English and creative writing major from Coats, N.C, is more interested in figuring out how history can be used in a work of fiction. The time period, however, is the same. Her project, “Creating Publishable Historical Fiction,” will involve the writing of a short story set during World War II.

The narrative was inspired by her grandmother’s experience working in an airplane factory during the war, Currin says.

“I was intrigued by the entrance of women into the American mainstream workforce,” she explains.

Her story, written in the bildungsroman tradition, follows two “young, naive, attention-starved, sexually curious and adventurous ‘Rosie the Riveters’ ” as they make their way from rural North Carolina to Richmond, Va., where they enter the workforce in support of the war effort. In the process, they come face to face with the “harsh realities facing women in the male-centered American workplace.”

Currin’s research involves visiting three Richmond libraries and archive holdings, as well as other locations useful to the story’s setting. She is also working with Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence Carrie Brown, a seasoned novelist, on turning that research into compelling historical fiction.

Meanwhile, Widjaja is taking full advantage of Pannell’s non-restrictive nature: Following a curiosity unrelated to her chemistry major, Widjaja will focus on “Understanding the Historical Culture of Stockholm, Sweden, Through In-Depth Investigation of its Architectural Evolution.” She will study Swedish architecture from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, paying special attention to the preparation and presentation of the Great Stockholm Exhibit of 1930.

“This was when the Swedish imperialist style shifted into a more individualist modernist form, a movement that is seen simultaneously throughout the world,” Widjaja explains. “A deeper understanding of architecture as a whole and the socioeconomic situation of Stockholm during this time period is required to paint the full picture of how and why.”

Madeline Widjaja and Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink

Madeline Widjaja and Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink

Widjaja has been a part of several Sweet Briar Theatre performances and plans to get even more involved with tech and design aspects next year. The Los Angeles native sees a strong connection between architecture and the performing arts.

“To me, [architecture] is the most beautiful form of human expression,” she says. “Performers express their passions through their bodies; architecture is this passion carved into the frames of buildings. … I hope this project will help me understand what it really means to identify as an artist.”

Widjaja’s final talk will feature several drawings, photographs and videos. All three Pannell scholars will present their projects to the campus community at the end of the academic year.

Pannell Scholarships may include a scholarly project, research, a creative endeavor, travel for academic purposes or service. Projects can be broadly imagined, tied to specific academic discipline, or interdisciplinary, possibly service-oriented. They may be related to a course, to future career interests, or to explore an intellectual interest.

For more information, email Julie Hemstreet, associate administrator of the Honors Program, at jhemstreet@sbc.edu.

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