A Gettysburg College senior has been awarded the top prize for undergraduate research by the oldest and largest professional organization for historians in the U.S.
David Wemer ’14 is the recipient of the highly competitive Raymond J. Cunningham Prize, awarded by the American Historical Association (AHA) for the best article written by an undergraduate student and published in a history journal. The prize will be awarded at the annual meeting of the AHA in Washington, DC in January 2014.
Wemer’s work, “Europe’s Little Tiger? Reassessing Economic Transition in Slovakia Under the Meciar Government 1993–1998, ” looks at economic policies under Vladimir Meciar, the first prime minister of independent Slovakia.
“When the Iron Curtain fell in the early ’90s, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar resisted western economists’ advice to switch rapidly to a capitalist economy. Without apologizing for Meciar’s strongman tactics, David Wemer’s eye-opening and provocative paper takes on the economic literature about Slovakia’s post-communist economy,” said Cindy Hahamovitch, a professor at the College of William and Mary and head of the AHA Cunningham Prize review committee.
“My first thought after learning I won was, ‘Wow. I must have been the only one who applied,’” said Wemer.
Wemer wrote the paper in the “Europe Since 1945” class taught by Prof. William Bowman, and submitted it to the Gettysburg Historical Journal, the College’s student-run journal. To be eligible for the AHA prize, a paper must have been published in a history journal. Only one nomination per school is allowed.
Amelia Grabowski ’13 and Kate Reed ’13 led the nine-member editorial board and Katey Stauffer ’13 worked with Wemer after the paper was selected for publication.
“The Gettysburg Historical Journal receives several excellent submissions every year and it is always a struggle to select the few to publish,” said Grabowski. Reed agreed. “Dave's paper stood out not only for his detailed research and choice of subject matter, but his ability to make the information accessible and engaging. We were very proud to publish it,” said Reed.
Now on the editorial board himself, Wemer sees the journal as “a fantastic opportunity for students, especially history majors.” Bowman said the history faculty stand behind the scholarship published, but the students do all the work. High standards and long hours have paid off for Wemer and the College. “While our standards are high, I don’t think any of us ever envisioned it being the platform for one of our students to win a national award from the AHA for best undergraduate article,” said Bowman.
“What is really interesting about David is that he is intellectually driven. He actively looks for new projects to challenge himself,” said Bowman. “In the last year he has started to work more on economics and economic development.“
Wemer writes to learn. Bowman commends his ability to master a large body of literature—huge amounts of information—and put it together coherently into a persuasive narrative. “David has a depth of understanding that is at least of graduate school level. He has incredible analytical ability and forms his own strong conclusions,” said Bowman.
But Wemer doesn’t always agree with himself. “I don’t fully agree with my article,” he said. “It is a bold stance and I am interested in what the AHA has to say about it. There are definitely two sides.”
He came to Gettysburg College with a very exacting life plan: focus on U.S. history, pursue his doctorate, and ultimately become a college professor. But he changed his mind along the way.
“College is about testing things and finding what you like and don’t like,” Wemer said. His experiences as an Eisenhower Institute (EI) Fellow and conducting original research with Prof. Bowman through the Mellon Summer Scholars Program opened other doors.
“I think I’ve always known that I had it in me to effect policy in some way. Working at EI showed me how—that it was possible. I want to heed that call,” he said. “The Mellon program was also a great experience. I had the opportunity to write a sixty-page paper with 150 sources, to really delve in-depth, over the summer. And I found out that academic research wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.”
“I love my history major and I would never change it. I take tons of courses in political science and economics, but I view problems as a historian and I don’t think that is detrimental to being in policy and government—I think it is an asset.”
What he does want to do is step up to meet today’s challenges. “We’re in one of the most exciting times to live in human history,” Wemer said. “The problems we face are daunting and different from the problems we have faced in the past. Whether it is global warming, water scarcity, food scarcity, energy, the problems we face now cannot be solved alone, by one country—they have to be solved by everybody.”
“Getting people who can work together and foster cooperation with other people will be the most valuable thing we’ll have going forward,” he said. What I am most passionate about is going out to see how we can do that.”
Wemer is a senior history major and German Studies minor. He is a recipient of the College’s prestigious Presidential Scholarship, an Undergraduate Fellow at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College and president of the College’s Phi Alpha Theta Historical Honors Society.
Wemer’s award-winning paper can be found through the College’s history department website or on The Cupola, a web-based collection of scholarly and creative works produced by faculty, students, and other members of the Gettysburg College community. The College’s Musselman Library created and maintains The Cupola online.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Sue Baldwin-Way, editor, Gettysburg Magazine and director of development communications.
Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.
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