WWU History student Hannah Swartos wins coveted Harry Fritz prize

by Sophia Pappalau
Office of University Communications intern
  • Hannah Swartos smiles at the camera; behind her is a hallway.
    Hannah Swartos

Western history student Hannah Swartos of Anacortes was awarded the Harry Fritz Best Paper Prize on June 2 at the 2021 Phi Alpha Theta Pacific Northwest Regional Conference for her work, entitled "Out of the Way:” Property and the Subversive Construction of Space by Enslaved People in the American South.”

Nearly 100 papers were submitted by graduate and undergraduate students that demonstrate diverse historical interests with such topics as the meaning of violence, the performance of religious beliefs and rituals, the relationship between humans and their environment, and the construction of political power.  

Phi Alpha Theta, an honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history, rewards the work of participating students by offering three prizes: the Best Graduate Student Paper Prize, the Best Undergraduate Paper Prize, and the Harry Fritz Best Paper Prize. The “Fritz Prize” is awarded each year to the best all-around regional conference paper.  

Swartos’ paper is the fruition of a quarter-long research project for HIST 499, Historical Research, the capstone seminar required for all History and History/Social Studies majors taught by Professor Mart Stewart.  

Stewart worked closely with Swartos as an advisor on her project, helping her and other HIST 499 students complete the manuscript-length paper on an original topic, using whatever research materials were available.  

The topic of Swartos’ essay ties the concept of subfloor pits used by enslaved people in the American South with acts of radical subsistence and profound, everyday resistance.  

“I thought that [the subfloor pits] would sometimes be used for food storage but were also, as I learned, used for other things,” said Swartos. “I think this idea of a semi-hidden space in the middle of such a supervised, intensely surveyed environment and the potentials for the use of that space was really interesting to me. So I just went in that direction instead of my initial thoughts, which I think is the best kind of research topic — where it's not your plan A, but it leads you down a rabbit hole of something much more interesting.” 

So I just went in that direction instead of my initial thoughts, which I think is the best kind of research topic — where it's not your plan A, but it leads you down a rabbit hole of something much more interesting.

Stewart said Swartos’ award was well deserved.  

“Hannah really brought considerable skills to this project. She was able to make the case clearly enough at the outset that I went ahead with it, but as we continued our conversations, the topic just grew in significance, and then she took it and ran with it,” Stewart said.  

“That really important step of moving from a kind of conceptual understanding and evidentiary understanding of a topic into actually being able to write it and capturing the resonance and the ambivalence of that original thought and conversation is something that she did by herself.” 

Swartos is presenting her paper at the annual conference for the Pacific Coast branch of the American Historical Association in August. She will continue to write with hopes of publishing both creative and research writing in the future.  

“I’m hoping this experience instills lasting confidence not only in the quality of my writing but also in my ability to convey its subject matter with integrity,” Swartos said. 

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