Julia Chaffers ’22 is one of 41 winners of the 2022 Marshall Scholarship, which will allow her to pursue two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom. She was selected from a pool of close to 1,000 applicants from colleges and universities across the country.
The Marshall Scholarship gives “intellectually distinguished young Americans the opportunity to develop their abilities as future leaders by studying at a U.K. university of the recipient’s choice,” according to the University’s press release. The annual scholarship was first awarded in 1953 and has an alumni network of approximately 2,000 past winners.
Chaffers is from Wellesley, Mass., and concentrates in history with a certificate in African American studies. She is a senior columnist for The Daily Princetonian, president of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, and co-chair of the 2022 Class Day Committee. She was previously a communications assistant for the Department of African American studies and interned for The Century Foundation in summer 2021.
Chaffers will spend her first year in the United Kingdom at University College London, where she will enroll in a master’s program in United States history and politics. She will then study British history with an emphasis on public history at the University of Manchester in her second year.
“To me, history is about not just what happened in the past, but also how we understand those facts and how we use that to inform our present,” Chaffers said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “If we can look back at the past and understand what actually happened and who’s been excluded over time, then that can help us build more just societies.”
Chaffers has dedicated many of her academic pursuits to uncovering missing stories from the past. One of her junior papers focused on how the Haitian Revolution informed Black American politics in the 19th century. She wrote her second junior paper about a high school in Walpole, Mass., that had a history of Confederate imagery and used a Rebels mascot until 2020.
“Those projects … were really about collective memory, and how we remember the past and how we keep those stories alive, and who’s included and excluded from the dominant narratives, and what are the counter narratives that are more inclusive and more accurate,” she said.
Her examination of Confederate monuments showed her the importance of studying public history, Chaffers explained.
“What we see especially with Confederate monuments is [how] the past can be used to divide, and to exclude, and to legitimize actual structures of oppression, like using Lost Cause mythologies about the South and misunderstandings of the Confederacy to legitimize Jim Crow segregation, for example. That’s why it matters what the history is that we teach and what the history is that we learn,” she said.
Chaffer’s senior thesis and future studies build on these ideas: she explained that the United Kingdom has its own ongoing conversations about “monuments and statues and histories,” which inspired her decision to pursue fellowships for graduate study.
In the University’s press release, associate professor of history and African American studies Joshua Guild stated that Chaffers has “all the makings of a gifted historian.”
“Julia stands out for her determination, her integrity, and her commitment to engaging difficult histories and equal measures of care and critical authority,” Guild was quoted as writing in his letter of recommendation for Chaffers. “With her experiences as a student columnist and debater, Julia Chaffers is already well-versed in public intellectual engagement. She is a skilled writer and insightful thinker whose commitments to interrogating our shared historical inheritances make her the kind of [21st] century leader we desperately need.”
Chaffers’ extracurriculars have also shown her the importance of history and its intersections. She explored the issue of collective memory firsthand in her columns for the ‘Prince’ that discussed Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. As a previous director of programming and now president of Whig-Clio, Chaffers focused the organization’s speaker series on how politics can affect other professions, like sports and journalism. She told the ‘Prince’ that her work with Whig-Clio made her think about “questions of how history intersects with our current politics,” but also how politics “intersects with other spheres of our lives.”
Chaffers is also collaborating with First College on a Wintersession project to create an exhibition about the Upward Bound program, a residential summer program for New Jersey high school students in the 1960s that included Black students at a time when there were very few Black undergraduates at the University.
“Julia is an absolutely brilliant student, and undoubtedly one of the best and most insightful thinkers and writers on campus,” wrote AnneMarie Luijendijk, professor of religion and head of First College, in the press release.
After graduate school, Chaffers hopes to be a historian who focuses on writing for a public audience. She said authors she read in high school, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, inspired her to dedicate her academic and professional pursuits to history because they presented historical research in an accessible way.
“Being an academic historian will give me the space to go through archives and documents and write the things that I want to write, but also presenting that in a way that people can access, whether they’re historians themselves or students or just people who want to learn more about our society,” Chaffers said.
Naomi Hess is an associate news editor who focuses on university policy and alumni affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NaomiHess17.