Student-Faculty Research Leads to Big Opportunities

CofC senior Patty Ploehn, a student in the Honors College who is double majoring in historic preservation and community planning and art history, is passionate about finding effective ways to preserve and understand historic buildings and cultural landscapes. And she recently got to present research on that subject at a national conference thanks to the College’s focus on student-faculty research.

While taking professor Nathaniel Walker’s course “The Architecture of Memory,” Ploehn hit upon the idea of researching Confederate Park in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There are four Civil War monuments in that park and one of them is quite unusual. The plaque affixed to that monument states that it’s dedicated to the “faithful slaves” who kept Confederate women and children safe while men fought on the front lines.

“That particular monument fascinates me,” Ploehn says. “Working with professor Walker, I decided to focus my research on it and examine the origin of its title and the context that led to this choice. Consequently, we researched the history of that monument and the park itself throughout the past summer and during part of the current semester.”

Ploehn and Walker, who is an assistant professor of architectural history, submitted the topic of their research – “On the Loyalty of Slaves: Black History, White Supremacy and Public Monuments in South Carolina” – to the Urban History Association. They were hoping it might be a plausible choice for that organization’s annual conference, and to Ploehn’s surprise, it was accepted.

“That led to an amazing opportunity,” says Ploehn. She and Walker both served on a panel at the conference, which took place in October in Columbia, South Carolina.

As the only undergraduate to present at the conference, Ploehn says sitting on a panel alongside Walker as well as scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University was certainly nerve-racking, but it was also a real honor and invaluable experience.

“Doing that allowed me to showcase my passion for preserving communities, buildings and human stories,” she says. “I received tons of feedback from professionals and academics there, and that has helped me fine-tune my research and what I want to pursue after graduating.”

A particular highlight, Ploehn recalls, was having lunch with professor Elihu Rubin from Yale and architectural history department chair Robin Williams from Savannah College of Art and Design, as well as several other lecturers.

“I was able to talk to them about my passions and ideas for life post-graduation,” she says. “They gave me sound advice for what to do in terms of graduate school and beyond, asked me questions about my topic and what it meant to me personally, and discussed their projects in depth with me. It was incredible.”

Ploehn plans to utilize this research project as the basis for her bachelor’s essay, a requirement in the Honors College. After that, she intends to use it as a key component of her application for graduate school in preservation and conservation.

“I’m really interested in interpretive history, which includes stories that can inform our perceptions of history. I hope this research experience and the connections I made at the conference will lead to opportunities for me to further my work in sharing such stories,” says Ploehn. “What really resonates for me are the stories of enslaved people and their descendants here in Charleston and elsewhere in this region. I want to help share their overlooked stories.”

Article by Dan Dickison. For more on this story, check out The College Today!

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