Valerie Park '01
- Received her undergraduate degree from the University of Montana, Missoula.
- Received her BA in Liberal Studies, with an emphasis in Women's Studies, and a minor in Anthropology.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Women’s History?
I chose to attend SLC because I wanted to focus my graduate studies in women's history, in preparation for a Ph.D. in History. When I entered the program, my intent was to gain a solid foundation in U.S. women's history before continuing on in a more generalized history program. I was attracted to the fact that the courses at SLC emphasized analysis of gender relations across the historical landscape. I was also impressed with the department's attention to issues of social justice.
How did the courses and/or faculty help shape your experience as a scholar?
The greatest strength of all programs at SLC is a constant attention to the writing process. Faculty generally expected synthesis and analysis of all reading materials through weekly writing assignments. This rigorous writing expectation taught me that the process of putting pen to paper was a valuable and necessary tool for coming to terms with the materials presented. It not only forced me to digest the authors' use of their "facts" and the terms by which they presented said facts, but my written synthesis facilitated my ability to show up to each weekly seminar ready for an in-depth discussion of the materials.
How did the interdisciplinary nature of the program affect your training? How did your coursework prepare you for further study and/or an eventual career? Where have you worked and what have you worked on since graduating?
I was primarily attracted to study at SLC's Women's History program for its focus on gender analysis and social justice, but I truly learned to aim to balance the question of gender relations with issues of racial, sexual, class, and national identity. Of course, I was exposed to "identity" analysis in my undergraduate coursework, but having grown up in a rather uni-cultural environment, I had never fully immersed myself in truly grappling with an array of diverse, multi-cultural perspectives. Luckily, by living in Yonkers I was privy to life in a truly racially and economically diverse neighborhood, which sharply contrasted to life in up-scale Bronxville. So much of the injustice and inequity I read about in the historical past of this country continually reared its ugly head in my community. In coupling my coursework with my observations and interactions with the people of Yonkers and Bronxville, it became readily apparent that the following adage was sadly contemporary—"those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
In sum, it became clear to me that as historians, what we choose to focus our studies on, how we present our ideas, and to what audience we write for carries great social importance. I learned that I did not want to study history for history's sake alone, nor did I want to circumscribe my work to scholarly journals aimed primarily at scholars. I wanted to learn how to make history's lessons come alive for the general public. Not only did the interdisciplinary nature of the SLC curriculum teach me to pay close attention to multi-culturalism, but an interdisciplinary approach to a career meant that I could and should blend my scholarly interests with developing innovative methods for presenting the historical past. For several years following my graduation from SLC, I worked as its College Archivist. I had the wonderful opportunity to practice archival document preservation methods and was able to learn to develop historical exhibits for public display. Although this archival career path carried its rewards, I developed interests in deepening my connection with public history through the study of archaeology and enrolled in a second master's degree program in Historical Archaeology at the University of Idaho.
I am currently writing my historical archaeology thesis and working full-time as an archaeologist for a private Cultural Resource Management firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. My thesis focuses on Chinese-American ethnic and gender identity formation in the gold rush era within an 1880s Idaho boom town. As a professional archaeologist, I have had the opportunity to work in Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, and most recently, Hawaii. As a new archaeological practitioner, I am focusing on perfecting my knowledge of archaeological methods. As a recent transplant to Hawaii, I am learning aspects of pre- and post-Contact Hawaiian culture. I look forward to future involvement in Hawaiian and other Pacific Islands archaeological site preservation and public interpretation, as well as the development of long-term cultural resource management plans for archaeological resources that lie within federal and state lands. I am also lucky to be involved in the collection of environmental data within these islands, in an effort to document and understand prehistoric human resource use and land modifications. In addition to examining the complex social, cultural, and political developments in Hawaii through time, I am interested in how Hawaiians reacted to their ecological niche and how their landscape modifications transformed the natural environment. Undoubtedly, the interdisciplinary nature of SLC's graduate program taught me that to more fully understand the past, we must be attuned to social complexity, and, therefore, we must attempt to identify and, if possible, synthesize our understandings of variations in culture throughout time.