|Senior wins top prize for history paper
RELEASED: April 14, 2005
DANVILLE, KYWith final exams and graduation lurking around the corner, few Centre College students have time for extra academic work outside the classroom. One of the exceptions is senior Bobby Murray of Midway, Ky., who earlier this month presented a prize-winning paper at the Kentucky regional meeting of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society. Murray's essay, "Trepidation Before the Dawn: Robert Breckinridge, Robert Wickliffe, and the Slave Debate in Antebellum, Kentucky," won first prize in the undergraduate paper division at the April conference held at Murray State University in Murray, Ky.
Centre history professor Steve Beaudoin suggested that Murray submit his paper for consideration at the regional meeting, which included participants from West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
Murray, a double major in history and government says he has always been interested in the early American Republic (the period between the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War). He had originally planned to focus on Civil War Kentucky but stumbled across a pamphlet by the abolitionist Robert Breckinridge during his research. (Breckinridge, for whom Centre's "Breck Hall" is named, was the uncle of Centre alumnus, John Cabell Breckinridge [class of 1838], who served as Vice President of the United States 1857-1861.) He thought he might use the document as a background source, but once he started reading it, he realized there was a paper just waiting to be written.
Breckinridge favored a gradual emancipation and colonization (the sending of free blacks and liberated slaves back to Africa). He debated Robert Wickliffe, the state's largest slaveholder at various times, for more than a decade. Breckinridge's style of abolitionism, Murray argues, has been wholly underappreciated by historians, although it was practically the only style of abolitionism espoused within antebellum Kentucky. Also, Murray states, many arguments that emerged between the two men helped explain a great deal of Kentucky's actions during the Civil War.
After polishing and expanding the paper, Murray hopes to have it published in a scholarly journal. He is currently consulting with Beaudoin and Larry Matheny, John Marshall Harlan Professor of Government.
Murray cites Beaudoin's junior seminar as having been instrumental in his development as a budding historian, "I used my experience in presenting the paper in class to present it at the conference," he says. "Beaudoin's class was excellent preparation."
Murray has come to the conclusion that the best papers "present interesting theses" and consequently "receive more attention than papers that just simply tell a story." He says this is a point that Beaudoin has stressed over the years.
After Centre, Murray plans on attending graduate school and eventually teaching history at the college level.
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