102 years after the sinking of the Titanic -- April 14, 1912 -- Kelly Hagerty ’14 is conducting original research on the ill-fated ocean liner.
“I would definitely consider myself a Titanic nerd,” said the English major with a writing concentration and religious studies minor. “But that’s the cool thing about college. The subjects that might be considered nerdy anywhere else become your passions and fellow students and faculty members find them interesting.”
Hagerty’s interests were first sparked after watching the James Cameron’s movie Titanic. She was instantly enthralled by the subject and wanted to learn as much as she could, starting with the historical accuracy of the film.
Regarding the film, she added, “I love the film, and while I think it’s really good, it is definitely part of the cultural currency of the ship’s legacy – it’s not the actual ship.”
Her time at Gettysburg College further encouraged her devotion, receiving support most notably from religious studies Prof. Buz Myers. Stopping by his office to discuss a paper during her junior year, they began talking about research opportunities.
“At the time, I was unsure of what topic I wanted to research,” said Hagerty. “I offhandedly mentioned that I wouldn’t mind looking into my old passion: the Titanic.”
At Myers’ prompting, Hagerty spent the next hour discussing her interest in the ship until it became clear that furthering her research was something she had to do. She applied for a Mellon Grant and was accepted into the Mellon Summer Scholars 2013 program.
Tying in her other interest in religion, Hagerty’s research analyzed the perceptions of God related to the building and sinking of the Titanic.
“In all of the time that I’ve conducted casual research, I’ve always had questions about religious atmosphere,” Hagerty said, “but there isn’t a lot out there about it.”
To emphasize this point, she recalled a trip she took to the Titanic’s birthplace of Belfast, Ireland while studying abroad. There was a significant amount of religious controversy around building the ship, but she had never heard much about it before her visit.
After reading texts about the cultural climate of the time and newspapers to gauge the response to the sinking, Hagerty noted two common questions: how could an “unsinkable” ship end its maiden voyage at the bottom of the Atlantic, and who could be blamed for such a tragedy?
For many, the answer was God, piquing her interest in the perceptions of God related to the Titanic.
“What I found is that there were three distinct yet inherently related perceptions of God’s role. I’ve termed them the All-Powerful God of Wrath, the Benevolent God of Free Will, and the God of Uncertainty.”
Since concluding her research, Hagerty has presented it twice at the College and once at a national conference for undergraduate research. The responses, while positive, have made her realize just how much more information she has yet to uncover.
“Research is interesting because you find one thing, but there are always more questions that will follow.”
Her current goal is to publish her findings in an academic journal, while still continuing her research. “My ultimate dream is to write a book about religion and the Titanic, with this as one chapter.”
Outside of her Titanic research, Hagerty is a member of the marching band and a section leader for the color guard. She participated in the Sunderman Conservatory of Music’s trip to China over winter break, has worked at both the Gettysburg Review and the Admissions Office, and is a dedicated member of Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity.
“I don’t want to be one of those people who says college was the best time of my life,” reflected Hagerty, “because I am hoping to have many more best times after I graduate. I can definitely say, though, that my Gettysburg experience was one of the best chapters of my life, in part because of the endless opportunities available here.”