Grad Story #12


Grad Story #12


Bob Caulkins 

History, PhD


In 2004 I decided to "restart" my education. I was inspired to study history early on, back in the early 1980’s. But at the time I was involved in raising my family and I was in the navy which is pretty much a 24 hour a day job.

Q. And that doesn’t leave you much time for going to classes.

Right. It’s not like you're in one place long enough to do that effectively. I took courses on and off wherever I could. And I was really fortunate...I had a professor, a mentor, who really sparked my curiosity in history. And I read a lot, after those days. When I had the opportunity to go back to school using my GI bill, I knew I wanted to do history. And that’s how I started out here. I’ve done my undergraduate work here, my master's and now I am doing my PhD.

Q. You must have seen some changes with working with the faculty.

Absolutely, the changes that I have seen and experienced are, in a sense coming up through an apprenticeship, up through a journeyman’s level and now hopefully I am approaching the “Master level” with this PhD. The relationships that you form with the faculty here are great. Every member of the History faculty has been supportive in helping me achieve my goals. I found that if I am willing to put in the work, and make the effort, that they have extended themselves. I can’t say enough about the entire department. The history department is a group of dedicated professionals. The levels of experience are so diverse and what each member brings to the department has allowed me to really explore different areas.

Q. Can you talk about your master’s thesis topic which I understand was primarily focused on North Dakota. Was it your experience in the military and your interest in North Dakota that brought those two pieces together?

That’s a good question. My thesis topic initially started out as an inquiry into the state of civil rights and liberties in WWI and, generally speaking, in America. WWI has a unique history and I believe it was a watershed event for a lot of events that have perhaps reoccurred – say during WWII, during the McCarthy era, during the Vietnam War, and perhaps even during this current war on terror. But North Dakota throughout the patriot hysteria of WWI had a record that went totally against the predominant trends in the United States. Where every other state in the union was seeking to prosecute people for what was perceived disloyalty to the nation, for what would now seem almost absurd reasons – for voicing any dissent against the war. In North Dakota, the state government here took measures to enforce the civil rights and civil liberties of people, and tried to protect them and shield them from this kind of almost hysterical behavior. I was able to bring some new and previously unused historical sources to this and build upon the previous excellent histories that had been written on Minnesota’s role and North Dakota’s role. I really enjoyed it and it was a really worthwhile endeavor.

Q. How important do you think it is to present your work as a graduate student at conferences or workshops?

Absolutely. This university, itself, facilitates a lot of opportunities. As a matter of fact we're sponsoring the annual Northern Great Plains History Conference this Fall. But the History department has also facilitated opportunities for grad students, me being one of them, to attend conferences both in the region and further afield. So the opportunities are here.

Q. Earlier you mentioned having a mentor in the early days. How important is the mentorship role for graduate students?

Oh, it’s huge. Huge. And the faculty here is second to none in that aspect. You find that any graduate students interest, even if the faculty interest isn’t an exact match, the associations are close enough that you will find a mentor here. There isn’t a single faculty member here that won’t guide you, and in some cases provide the critical analysis and the motivation to become a better historian and a better student. Dr Jim Mochoruk, I can’t say enough about him. Dr Albert Berger and Dr Kim Porter, all three were on my committee and honestly, I couldn’t have done it without them. And I must also mention Dr Cliff Staples in Sociology. I minored in Sociology and he was a great help, too.

Q. That’s an interesting point you bring up and it’s a common theme that no discipline works in isolation. So many students are working across campus lines in terms of collaborating with other departments.

I think you are absolutely correct, and I’ll say this: Now that I have finished my Master’s I am more aware now of what I learned as an undergraduate in cross disciplinary studies. My studies in Economics, Sociology, Indian Studies – it is now the foundation that I am working upon.

Q. Where do you want to be in 5 years?

In 5 years, I’d like to be standing in the front of a classroom full of undergraduates trying to show them the glories and wonders of History. And at nights I’d like to be home bugging my wife and writing the manuscript of my first book. (laughs)


Susan Caraher


The Graduate School



Original Format






Susan Caraher, “Grad Story #12,” Grad Stories, accessed September 22, 2018,