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The History department awards annually the Frank Ryan prize for the best Senior Honors thesis. This prize is named for Frank Winkler Ryan, an expert in American history and long-time instructor of the honors program since his appointment to the History department in 1957. Emeritus professor Ryan passed away in 2007.

The 2020 Frank Ryan Prize Winner

Name: Linda Cheng
Adviser: Michael Tsin
Title: “Breach of Trust as Fuel for Protest: Tiananmen Demonstrations and the Erosion of State-Society” Relations in 1980s China

Cheng’s thesis explores the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrators’ motivations for choosing “Nothing to My Name” (Cui Jian, 1986) as their protest anthem, in tension with their relative socioeconomic privilege. Through analyzing topics of post-reform educational policy changes, the 1983 Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, and dissemination of corruption as “crisis” within 1980s China, it argues that there was one major theme which contributed to and eventually drove Chinese students to the stark conclusion that they had “nothing:” The erosion of the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese students which occurred throughout the course of the 1980s. At the larger level, this thesis highlights how the immense social changes which swept post-1978 reform China not only molded Chinese society as a whole, but shook the Chinese government to its very core. Utilizing originally conducted simple surveys, oral history accounts, and interdisciplinary sociological-historical analysis, this thesis contributes an alternative framework for understanding the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests, as a site through which students attempted to negotiate and grapple with their loss of trust in the Party, privileged political voice, and faith in society—the loss of “everything”—that they experienced throughout the 1980s. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that the Party played an unintentionally cataclysmic role in the 1989 Tiananmen Protests through its usage of often-oversimplifying messaging to address complex social problems—a trend which continues into today, with uncertain effects.

“Breach of Trust as Fuel for Protest: Tiananen Demonstrations and the Erosion of State-Society Relations in 1980s China”

The 2019 Frank Ryan Prize Winner

Name: Max Conley
Advisor: Morgan Pitelka
Title: “The World Whole: An Environmental History of Japanese Space Power”

Conley’s thesis explores the history of Japan’s interactions with outer space, largely in the 20th century. It argues for a conception of “Earth-space” wherein the porous boundary between the atmosphere and outer space is a site of rich interactions between society, nature, and technology. Using the topics of Tokyo’s urban heat island, satellite meteorology and remote sensing, and Japanese spaceflight in the 1990s, this thesis argues that history must become posthuman, as solar energy, concrete, physical maps, satellites, frogs, and robots play as important a role as humans in the development of the events and changes explored. Arguing from a deeply interdisciplinary perspective situated between history, philosophy, the applied physical sciences, cognitive science, critical theory, and sociology among others, this thesis finds itself primarily within environmental historiography. In imagining “the world whole,” this thesis seeks to synthesize and create a picture of the historical world that is appropriate to the climate regime and blurred metaphysical boundaries that characterize the 21st century.”

“The World Whole: An Environmental History of Japanese Space Power”

The 2018 Frank Ryan Prize Winner

Name: Katherine Frances Cayton
Adviser: Karen Auerbach
Title: “A ‘Third Possibility’ Revolution: The Success of Émigré Reporting Networks at Radio Free Europe During Poland’s 1956 Thaw”

Cayton’s thesis explores the essential role of Polish émigré journalists at Radio Free Europe to thestation’s mission and Polish broadcasts throughout the first part of the 1950s, culminating in the1956 thaw. Exploring how émigré journalists successfully translated Polish public opinion into station broadcast policy, this thesis argues that these two constituencies drew on a collective national consciousness to advocate for gradual communist reform. Using the June Poznań riots and the October thaw as case studies, this thesis examines the process by which American administrators at Radio Free Europe ceded authority to Polish journalists. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that 1956 proved essential to solidifying Radio Free Europe as a news source for Poles, by Poles.

“A ‘Third Possibility’ Revolution: The Success of Émigré Reporting Networks at Radio Free Europe During Poland’s 1956 Thaw”

The 2017 Frank Ryan Prize Winner

Name: Meredith Miller
Adviser: Chad Bryant
Title: “When Paris Met Bohemia: Discovering the Czech Nation through its Art, 1900-1938”

Miller’s thesis explores how a small group of French artists and intellectuals based in Paris ‘discovered’ the Czech nation through its modern art and history in the years leading to World War I through the interwar period. It argues that these Frenchmen at first praised the ‘Frenchness’ of Czech modernism and history to celebrate their own civilization and liberal values. Soon after World War I had begun, these Frenchmen advocated for an independent state not only because the Czechs’ refined art and history demonstrated its own European value, but also to ensure that a representative of Western European values was firmly situated in the heart of East-Central Europe.

“When Paris Met Bohemia: Discovering the Czech Nation through its Art, 1900-1938”

Click here for a list of previous Frank Ryan prize winners.