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Steven Isaac

An Award-Winning Professor and Mentor

Longwood history professor gets students excited about research

Dr. Steven Isaac Dr. Steven Isaac

Dr. Steven Isaac has a passion for research that often involves poring over 800-year-old manuscripts in Latin or Old French. He is equally passionate about instilling the love of research in his students.

Isaac, a medieval specialist who is an associate professor of history at Longwood University, encourages students to submit paper proposals to Longwood's undergraduate medieval studies conference-which he co-founded and co-directs-and helps them polish their work.

As a Fulbright Program adviser, he worked last year with a student who applied for a Fulbright grant, which he calls "karmic payback" for his own stint as a Fulbright Scholar in France in 2010. He is working this semester with students who are writing research papers based on what they learned in a class he taught in Morocco on Berber culture last spring.

Isaac recently received the Waverly Cole Award from the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences, which recognizes excellence in mentoring students in undergraduate scholarly endeavors. The award is given to a tenured faculty member who has shown a sustained outstanding record of mentoring undergraduate scholarly activities and whose students have disseminated their work at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.

"Steven is a great role model for the type of faculty mentoring of student research that we want to encourage in our college," said Dr. Charles Ross, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "He is passionate about his work and transmits his enthusiasm to his students."

One of Isaac's colleagues, Dr. James Munson, associate professor of history, echoed those sentiments. "If there is anyone on this campus who is making students aware of the joys of historical research-not the easiest sell in the world-it is Steven Isaac," he said.

Isaac enjoys helping students with research. "It's satisfying to introduce students to sources and show them how to read sources and also how to read underneath sources-how to recognize spin in particular documents and then read against such misinformation," he said. "I enjoy working with students in building a good argument, citing sources, the whole scholarly apparatus. One of the biggest rewards for me is to see students realize they're really good and don't have to take a back seat to anyone at any university."

Isaac is also proud of the two-day conference that he and Dr. Larissa Tracy, a fellow medievalist who is an associate professor of English, initiated in 2007. The conference, known as "Meeting in the Middle: the Undergraduate Medieval Conference of Longwood University," is held in the spring, with as many as five Longwood students participating each year. That's an impressive number because applications to present are growing increasingly competitive, Isaac said.

"In submitting abstracts to present papers at the conference, our students are competing with students from the entire Mid-Atlantic region," he said. "They usually begin their papers in a class-often my Medieval Europe class, as well as several of Dr. Tracy's classes-then we work with them on revising them. Often they don't think they're good enough to present at the conference, but then they learn otherwise."

One student with whom Isaac worked was history major Hunter Swanson '07, M.S '12, who as a result of taking his Medieval History course, submitted a paper, "Stephen of Blois: A Crusader Vindicated?," that was presented at the medieval conference in 2007.

"I wanted to take the easy way out and choose a topic with plenty of sources, but Dr. Isaac asked me to focus on one of the less well-known crusaders, which I did," said Swanson. "After doing some research, I told him I didn't think I had enough material to work with, but he said 'No, you can do it.' He encouraged me to stick with the original plan, which was more difficult but helped me to learn more."

Isaac's main research field is medieval military culture, focusing primarily on Western Europe in the 12th century. He was a Fulbright Scholar for four months in spring 2010 at the Center for Advanced Studies of Medieval Civilization at the University of Poitiers in Poitiers, France, during which he conducted research on urban military sieges in the 12th century. Although Medieval Europe is his specialty, he also teaches courses on the history of Islam, ancient Greece and one called "War and Society before Gunpowder," which also sometimes produces papers for the medieval conference.

The Waverly Cole Award includes a $1,000 check and is named for one of Longwood's most generous benefactors, a prominent anesthesiologist who died in August 2009. The Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences is named for him and Dr. John R. Cook '52, M.S. '60.

Learn more about Longwood's Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy