Rebecca L. Zeidel '06
Thesis Title: “Diaries Fore and Aft: Gender and Social Interactions Aboard the Whaling Ship Nauticon, 1848-1853”
The skills and experiences I gained as a History concentrator prepared me well for a career in the law. Harvard's History Department teaches concentrators to be both students of history and historians in their own right. Students learn history in the classroom, and then they dive into the archives and do history themselves, particularly through the tutorial program and the thesis-writing process. History concentrators learn to figure out what information they need to build a coherent narrative, how to find it, and how to synthesize it.
My senior thesis was a microhistorical analysis of gender and social interactions in the 19th century Pacific whaling community through an examination of two diaries kept on the same voyage of the ship Nauticon from Nantucket, 1848-1853: the diaries of Susan Veeder, the wife of the captain, and John Roberts, the third mate. Both diarists painted vivid watercolor pictures of places the ship visited, including Tahiti, the Galapagos, and Pitcairn's Island, the home of the famous Bounty mutineers. For my thesis research, I traveled to the archives of the Nantucket Historical Association and the Providence Public Library to examine the diaries as both texts and objects, and I visited the Charles W. Morgan in Mystic, CT, a wooden whaling ship that survives from the 19th century, to understand the physical space of a whaling ship. I had the great fortune to work with Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich as my thesis advisor for this endeavor and benefited tremendously from her advice and mentoring. Similarly, during my junior tutorial on the History of Harvard, I pored through letters, diaries, and newspapers in the Radcliffe archives to understand how Radcliffe women thought about women's suffrage in the period from the founding of the Harvard Annex in 1879 to the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, in 1920.
My tutorial and thesis experiences complemented my courses in the classroom and together provided strong foundation for legal work. As history students, we learn to read critically. We conduct research, look for patterns among the narratives that different sources present, and piece together what happened, asking why it happened the way it did. We analyze vast quantities of information and learn to reconcile inconsistencies and distill it into a logical synthesis. In law school and now, as a litigation associate, I draw on these same skills: research, writing, analytical thinking, arguing a particular position grounded in the sources (in this case, the facts of the particular case, and the ways the law has been applied to similar sets of facts). Concentrating in History has not only given me a lifelong appreciation for historical analysis but also training in the same kinds of skills I rely on every day as a lawyer.