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Emme Taylor: Shedding New Light on Old History

8/30/2011

For Emme Taylor, history is not so much a dead record as a living investigation. A senior History student, Taylor recently helped to inquire into little-known Tennessee history as part of an independent study with Dr. Mark Cheathem. In the course of a semester, Taylor investigated the life of a prominent Civil War general, discovering the facts of his life not only in books, but also in courthouses, archives, and cemeteries.The experience was enlightening.

“I looked through census records and cemetery plots to uncover the life of this person,” said Taylor. “A lot of people think of facts, figures, and dates when they think of history, but there’s a lot more to it. When you do primary research, it’s almost like uncovering a mystery.”

It is but one of the latest of Taylor’s investigations as a History major at Cumberland University. A native of Ardmore, Tennesee, the thoughtful student arrived at the university in 2008, where she quickly began to excel as a history scholar under professors such as Cheathem and Dr. Natalie Inman. Having chosen Cumberland for its small size and liberal arts offering, Taylor found a supportive home in the campus community.

“I’ve really enjoyed being here,” said Taylor. “I think the history department is one of our strongest. Dr. Cheathem is my advisor, and he’s been great from the get-go because he really takes the time to help you improve. Dr. Inman has also been immensely helpful and a good mentor. The professors are great at opening doors for you if you show the initiative.”

For Taylor, such drive has not been difficult to come by. Over the past three years, the multitalented student has become President of Pi Gamma Mu and an award-winning percussionist in Cumberland’s Field, Concert, and Jazz Bands, as well as a recipient of four annual student awards.Her successes have only been matched by her development as a future historian, a development Taylor credits to her professors’ support and vision.

“My professors have really stressed developing critical thinking skills and being able to analyze an argument,” said Taylor. “People don’t always connect to history, but they have an approach that’s really interesting to me. It’s changed the way I write and the way I approach historical documents.”

That change proved to be an excellent one, as Taylor’s scholarship has already brought her professional recognition. Since 2010, Taylor has presented papers at conferences at the Tennessee Conference of Historians and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte’s Graduate Forum. In 2011, Taylor was also chosen as one of thirty Gilder Lehrman History Scholars, a prestigious honor that allowed her to attend an intensive one-week program in New York City.

That experience served only to confirm what Taylor has long known: that her future lies in history. The aspiring historian plans to continue her education at a graduate level after leaving Cumberland. Eventually, Taylor hopes to follow in the footsteps of her history professors, contributing especially to the area of gender studies and American women’s history in the nineteenth century.

What Taylor most wishes to impart to her future students, however, may simply be the same love she has for the past.

“Society is pushing for math and sciences, and that’s great. But I think it’s also important to know the history of us,” said Taylor. “I feel like people should be better educated about American history, and I have a passion for that.”

If such enthusiasm is any indication, Taylor may one day not only enliven American history but make it herself.