On September 24th, esteemed alumna of the M.A. in History program Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch joined the College community for a virtual Q&A session about her life since graduation. Moderator Dr. Shannon Eaves, Assistant Professor of History at the College fielded questions from the audience for the session, which included graduate current students at the College of Charleston as well as Arkansas State University, graduate faculty and staff, as well as friends and family of both Dr. Jones-Branch and Dr. Eaves.
During the call, Dr. Jones-Branch spoke about what motivated her to pursue higher education, both at the College and at The Ohio State University, where she received her Ph.D. She shared that she always wanted to be a historian, and she would read the Encyclopedia Britannica as well as the Ebony Pictorial History of Black America growing up. After a life-changing class as an undergraduate returning from the Persian Gulf War, she declared a history major.
As a graduate student at the College, Dr. Jones-Branch worked at the Avery Research Center, where she said she was able to become deeply immersed in primary resources and learn stories that even she didn’t know as a Charleston native. Former Graduate Dean and member of the history department Dr. Amy Thompson McCandless pushed Dr. Jones-Branch to write a graduate thesis, which became her first published book “Crossing the Line: Women’s Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014).
When asked, Dr. Jones-Branch shared that she decided to attend The Ohio State University for her Ph.D. due to both her desire to get out of the South for a while and the reputation the school had for assisting African American students in completing their degrees. While there, she dealt with bumps and bruises along the way, but with the support of her peers, and especially her mother, she became the first in her family to complete her Ph.D. Dr. Jones-Branch stated that anytime she felt like giving up, she remembered that her family, community, and church were watching her, and that helped her carry on.
Some advice Dr. Jones-Branch gave to aspiring students of history included to remember to ask for help, find your people, and to remember the vast field of options available to students after graduation. History students can go on to have careers in government, government research, medicine, public outreach at places like museums, archives, and historic sites, as well as becoming teachers and professors of history. Dr. Jones-Branch emphasized the interdisciplinary applications of history, and how higher education as a whole can benefit from an investment in the humanities. She cited skills like communication, critical thinking, and analysis.
When asked about how graduate students can be more supportive of their black peers, especially during the Black Lives Matter movement, Dr. Jones-Branch advised open listening and understanding while emphasizing there isn’t always a need to respond or solve an issue, as well as encouraging students to examine their own life experiences in a university space.
For more information on Dr. Jones-Branch, see our Alumna of the Month post from August 2020. For more information on opportunities in the field of history, visit https://www.historians.org/.