Chelsea Gibson Interview
Major Fields: American History
Minor Fields: U.S. and the World, Russia
Chelsea Gibson has been incredibly busy. In addition to teaching several undergraduate classes for the history department and her dissertation work, Chelsea has been busy conducting research, entering into language acquisition programs, and working for a local nonprofit museum. Perhaps most importantly for this newsletter, she is a recent recipient of the Binghamton University Graduate Student Excellence Award in Teaching. According to one of her recommendation letters, Chelsea "approaches teaching with a quiet and easy charisma that is very effective...[She] is a very impressive teacher who mobilizes her tremendous intellectual abilities to inform, encourage, and guide students. She is first-rate in every way."
After receiving her B.A. in History at North Georgia University, Chelsea came to BU as a graduate student to complete a Masters in History (completed in 2013), and is currently a PhD candidate for the department. Going straight from undergrad into the search for a graduate program wasn't necessarily easy at first. "At the last moment I found Binghamton University," Chelsea said. My (undergraduate) advisor said 'That's a really great place for you! They do a lot of women's history!' I scrambled at the last moment to get all the application materials together and had to ship them overnight!" Gibson also mentioned that the moment she was sure of her choice was after looking at the faculty page of her current advisor, Dr. Leigh-Ann Wheeler. Indeed, the faculty and department support helped motivate Chelsea to thrive and develop a number of skill sets. Gibson credits Dr. Wheeler and other members of the faculty as being "some of the greatest people" in helping her evolve during her early years of study. As her primary advisor, Dr. Wheeler was "unfailingly enthusiastic....a very open person....and a great editor." Dr. Heather Dehaan, our specialist in Russian History and another advisor of Gibson's was "willing to do anything," including motivating Chelsea to engage with local history—Chelsea now acts as a docent and board member for the nearby Phelps Mansion Museum.
Gibson's teaching experience at BU began like many others as a Teaching Assistant for the History Department, teaching sections of Imperial Russian History, and both Early and Modern American History courses. These courses helped influence the construction of her first courses as an adjunct, most specifically a course entitled, "The Russian Revolution through American Eyes." In addition, Chelsea has been vigorously invested in learning the Russian language. Beyond being a recent recipient of a Binghamton University Critical Language Scholarship which she is using to study at the Kora Institute in Vladimir, Russia, Gibson previously worked as part of the Languages Across the Curriculum program for several courses. She plans to engage in archival research to help round out her dissertation project.
The project ambitiously engages in a synthesized analysis of both the history of women's rights in America as well as the influence of the very same movement on revolutionaries in Russia from 1880 to 1920. "It [broadly speaking] looks at the Russian Revolutionary movement prior to the Bolsheviks," Chelsea said. "It interrogates American's relationship with revolution, particularly how Russian women made the Russian Revolution more palatable to American audiences who were likely to view the nihilism of the Russian Revolution as a negative, Eastern, and anarchic ideology." In addition to archival papers of several American progressives, Chelsea relied heavily on publications by groups of both nihilists and female revolutionaries to understand this phenomenon, incorporating contemporary newspapers, progressive journals, and commentaries by Russian experts abroad. She specifically mentions the influence of Sergei Stepniak, the revolutionary assassin known for killing the chief of the Russian Gendarme in 1878, who later almost acted almost as "public relations for the Russian Revolution around the world, specifically targeting Western audiences [with his writing]." She also uses the writings of Catherine Breshkovsky, affectionately known by many during her life as "The Little Grandmother of the Russian Revolution."
Her advice to new and incoming graduate students? "To be successful in all of this...what keeps you back is fear. Acknowledge that fear that keeps you from writing a page, or fear that keeps you from going to the archive. Being part of Binghamton, I didn't feel dragged down by my professors or my peers and it created a place where I felt like I could gain confidence. Having a revelation to 'just do it'...just comes with confidence, and it benefits me as a scholar." She also encourages students to approach the program with an open mind. "Reading diverse things just makes you a better writer. Just trying different things helps carve out a unique place for you."
Chelsea will be using her vast teaching experience to educate new graduate teaching assistants in pedagogical theory as the instructor for Teaching College History in the Fall 2017 semester.