Yale’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, a professional society devoted to the study of history, has not updated its Web site since February 1998. But history professor Michael Mahoney said he hopes to breathe life back into the nearly inactive society.
Mahoney, who took over as Phi Alpha Theta’s faculty advisor this fall, said his efforts to revitalize the chapter are part of a larger goal to make the University’s History Department more user-friendly. By organizing Phi Alpha Theta-sponsored activities such as lectures and lunches with faculty, along with creating an undergraduate history journal, Mahoney said the society will become more recognizable on campus. This year, 30 students registered to become members of the society.
“We want to make the department more responsive to undergraduates,” History Department chair Paul Freedman said. “We want to form a society of history majors.”
Mahoney attributed the society’s lack of inertia to its ever-changing advisors — the society has had a different faculty advisor every year for the past four years. Mahoney was named Phi Alpha Theta’s faculty advisor two years ago, but he had to give up his position when he took a leave of absence the following year, he said.
Mahoney will remain at Yale until at least 2007, he said, affording Phi Alpha Theta some level of continuity.
“Getting the momentum going from year to year is my first goal,” Mahoney said.
Kathy Chen ’05, a member of the society’s executive committee board, said Phi Alpha Theta also aims to engage in a number of activities on campus, such as tutoring history to students in area schools, conducting career preparation workshops for history majors and pairing students with faculty members in intimate settings.
“We want to engage not only history majors, but also get more students involved and engaged in history,” Chen said.
While some students might construe an academic honor society like Phi Alpha Theta to be merely a resume builder, Chen said the society’s loose induction requirements contradict such a notion.
Phi Alpha Theta, a charter member of the Association of College Honor Societies with 820 active chapters nationwide, was established in 1921 at the University of Arkansas. Membership in Phi Alpha Theta is granted to history majors who have completed at least nine hours of coursework within the department, have a grade point average of at least 3.1 in the department, and have an overall grade point average of at least 3.0.
“We’re not very elitist,” Chen said. “We’re an organization centered around a common interest; we might as well call it the National History Society.”
The society will also help achieve the department’s goal of fostering closer relationships between faculty and students, said Sarah Jones ’06, who is also a member of Phi Alpha Theta’s executive committee board.
“History is one of the largest departments at Yale, so it’s hard [for the students] to have a lot of communication with each other,” Jones said. “Phi Alpha Theta could be a means to achieve that.”
This year, Yale’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta vied to host the society’s annual New England Regional Conference, which will be held in the spring of 2005, Mahoney said. But neighboring Quinnipiac University, which he said boasts a more active Phi Alpha Theta chapter, will host the conference instead.
Nevertheless, Mahoney said he hopes to send a strong Yale contingent to the Quinnipiac conference to present their research.