History in the Valley

By Sydney Stalnecker

The Youngstown State University history department and the Phi Alpha Theta history honors society will host V.W. Starr’s History Across the Humanities Conference for another year with 23 student presentations under the theme of “Memory, Identity and Community.”

Amy Fluker, assistant professor of history, has been organizing the conference since 2019. The conference was started by, and is now named after, Valerie Waksmunski-Starr, a former graduate student at YSU who died from breast cancer in 2015.

“We hold the conference now in her honor every year,” Fluker said.

The HATH conference will consist of 23 student and about 10 professor presentations covering a range of topics from rebuilding Wellsville, Ohio to local synagogue Ohev Beth Sholom, formerly known as Rodef Sholom, which is creating an archive.

Fluker said she is excited for the presentation related to an episode of the history department’s monthly speaker series, History Happened Here, about the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society. The speaker series is a part of the Robert W. Reeder endowment, which was presented to the history department.

“As a part of that speaker series, we invited the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society to come and speak,” Fluker said. “They’re a group that’s involved in an effort to preserve a historic home in Oberlin.”

Fluker said this is an important local story but is often overlooked.

“[Bruce Evans] was an African American abolitionist, and he and his family were extremely active in local efforts to defy slavery,” Fluker said. “They assisted fugitives on the underground railroad, and were involved in some major political controversies that built up to the Civil War.”

Each presentation will relate in some way to this year’s theme of memory, identity and community.

“What we were looking for is work that … students are doing that connects the past to the present,” Fluker said. “Show how and why history is still relevant in our daily lives.”

Attendees will also have the option to explore internships and careers in the history field at professionalized roundtables. The event, while based in history, is open to people from all specializations.


“We also invite professionals from humanities career paths to come and speak to students about what they do and things they can do to sort of help position themselves for jobs,” Fluker said. 

At the event, YSU will welcome back former faculty member Carla A. Simonini as HATH’s keynote speaker. According to HATH’s press release, Simonini is the Rubino professor and director of Italian American studies at Loyola University in Chicago.

“She’s giving a keynote address on Thursday evening at 5 o’clock Feb. 24 on Christopher Columbus, and how interpretations of Christopher Columbus have changed over time,” Fluker said. “Simonini is going to speak about how Italian Americans have identified with Columbus and his history and his legacy.”

The HATH conference will take place on Feb. 24-25 at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. Guests will have the option to attend in-person or online. The conference is free for everyone.

The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday with an introduction by Phi Theta Alpha’s President, Brooke Bobovnyick, and finish after Simonini’s presentation at 5 p.m. The Friday conference will begin at 9:30 a.m.

For more information on the schedule, visit the HATH website.