GARRETT HILLYER '12 ALUMNUS
by ARTS AND LETTERS | Monday, Jun 10, 2019
DEGREE: Bachelor of Arts in History
CURRENT STATUS: I am currently in my third year of a PhD-History program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, focusing on Pacific Islands History. I am also a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow focusing on Sāmoan language and area studies. This year I am preparing for and taking my comprehensive exams, and next year I'll be conducting archival and ethnographic research in Sāmoa and New Zealand. My specific research is on food history in Sāmoa, and I take an ethnographic historical approach in trying to analyze the symbolic realities of Sāmoan actors in the past regarding food and food practice and exploring how these realities change over time, especially during the colonial period.
FIRST JOB: After graduating from FAU in 2012, I moved to American Sāmoa and volunteered full-time as a high school Social Studies teacher. I volunteered through an organization called WorldTeach, who placed me on the 'outer' island of Taʻū, which has a population of about 500 people, is about 17 square miles in size, and is roughly 90 miles from American Sāmoa's urban center of Pago Pago. It was an amazing, difficult, and ultimately very rewarding experience!.
BIGGEST CHALLENGES: My biggest challenge thus far has been the long, tedious road of graduate school, which does not necessarily come with any guarantees in the ways of job prospects. It can be difficult sometimes to think that all my work might not materialize in the form of a position I can more or less 'walk into.' Then again, I've had the opportunity to learn so much, including multiple foreign languages. I've travelled the world for conferences and research, and I've grown a lot as an educator through TA-ships, so even the challenging parts have been balanced and even surpassed by the rewards. With all I've learned and experienced, I feel very confident that I'll end up doing something I love, even if it's not in academia. At the end of the day, no major 'guarantees' success, so finding something you love that can help you grow is the ultimate reward, and History has been that for me.
BEST FAU MEMORY: My best FAU memory has to be taking Dr. Stephen Engle's classes. I took his Civil War course first, which was really the beginning of my thinking that History could be a great major for me. The way Dr. Engle taught the course, it was clear that he had so much passion for what he had learned and how he wanted to communicate that knowledge to us as students. Seeing that, I thought, "I've always liked the stories of History...maybe I could learn more about certain topics and do what he does!" I later took the Senior Thesis course with Dr. Engle, which reinforced my love of researching and writing.
WHY DID YOU MAJOR IN HISTORY?:
Ultimately, for me, majoring in History is as much about education as it is about the field of History itself. Granted, I enjoy exploring various theoretical and methodological approaches to reconstructing the past, and I am eager (if given the opportunity) to have a career in which I conduct historical research and produce insightful scholarship. However, my favorite aspect of the field is the opportunity to share stories with students and encourage them to learn more about the past. Now that I am involved in Pacific Islands History, I feel very rewarded to share what I've learned with younger students, and even graduate students and professors, given how unaware many people are about the different histories of Oceania.
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY ABOUT IT?: Certainly the reading, writing, and teaching. If you enjoy picking up a book and learning new things, you can't go wrong with History. It might be a bit of a tired cliché, but it really is true that you learn more about where you're at and where you're headed if you know where you've been. Reading about the past, exploring different forms of historical expression -- archival texts, oral histories, performances, remembrances, etc. -- and articulating those in your own writing, only to later share them with larger audiences vis-a-vis presentations and courses is such a rewarding feeling, and it gives you more nuanced perspectives on the world around you.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE VALUE OF A HISTORY DEGREE?: The greatest 'value' of my degree has been the feeling it gives me every day. I spoke earlier about some of my fears for future prospects, but ultimately I have to say that ever since majoring in History at FAU, most of my days have been very happy ones. I wake up, learn some new things, prepare to communicate those things either through writings or lessons, and in turn get to feel the reward of helping others learn. I've met a lot of people who scoff at majoring in History, not to mention spending years in graduate school, but ultimately I think I would rate quite high on a 'happiness index' given how rewarding my work has been, and all the places it has taken me.
FAVORITE BOOK: My all-time favorite book is probably Edvard Hviding's Guardians of Marovo Lagoon, which is about forms of 'marine tenure' (as opposed to 'land tenure') in the Solomon Islands. Though it can easily be classified as a work of anthropology, it's very historical in nature, and shows how important it is for historians of Oceania (and elsewhere) to recognize the various ways in which contemporary practices are built upon deep-seated, though highly re-valuated ancestral ways of knowing. That said, I much prefer to read journals, and my favorite is The Contemporary Pacific.
PERSONAL: I got married last year, and my wife and I have traveled to 12 different countries in the past two years! A lot of that was made possible by travel grants for history conferences, so one might say that even though History isn't a 'lucrative' field, it can still help you get where you want to go!