Graduate Spotlight: Raffi Andonian
Degree Objective: M.A. in History, Ph.D. in History, Master of Historic Preservation
Other Degrees: B.A. in History, M.A. in Nonprofit Organizations
Raffi Andonian originally applied to the University of Georgia’s graduate history program to study early American history.
Now three years into his graduate studies, Andonian’s interests and degree objectives have snowballed.
“Once I arrived here, I explored ways to diversify my knowledge and skills, which is how I discovered the Historic Preservation program,” he said. “Once I did some coursework in historic preservation, I realized so much of the profession is based in nonprofit organizational work, and I began to look for ways to develop in that aspect.”
Andonian is now on track to receive four graduate degrees from UGA: a master’s in history, a doctorate in history, a master’s in nonprofit organizations and a master of historic preservation.
“In a way, working in three fields kept me fresh, because I never felt like I was over-specializing, and I could see how the three disciplines come together,” he said.
If pursuing four degrees were not enough, Andonian is also fulfilling the Certificate in University Teaching.
“When I got to graduate school and began working as a teaching assistant, I saw firsthand with my own students how important good teaching is and what role it can play in helping introductory students learn,” he said.
Andonian’s experiences with teaching and academic research build on his prior work with the U.S. National Park Service. He has previously conducted interpretive programs at the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Richmond National Battlefield Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
After juggling class work for three years, Andonian has finally begun his own scholarly pursuits this semester. True to his original intent to attend graduate school, he is researching early American history. His history thesis will illustrate the debate surrounding the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
According to Andonian, less than one year after the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 11 states had ratified the Constitution. However, North Carolina and Rhode Island abstained from officially joining the Union.
“North Carolina and Rhode Island can be categorized as the ‘non-ratifying states,’ since they were the only two states still not in the Union when the government under the Constitution had already started operating,” said Andonian.
While Andonian’s research does not examine how to interpret constitutional legal questions, he wants to illuminate the history and controversy behind drafting and adopting the Constitution.
“I think it’s important for Americans to realize the Constitution was not something that had consensus, and it was not seen by all as a welcome, ideal model for government – opposition and debate were significant,” said Andonian. “Too often in politics, our false image of the Constitution taints rhetoric and even policy.”
Andonian will finish his history thesis this summer and then immediately begin his historic preservation research.
Although still designing his research project, Andonian plans to study the architectural construction and historical interpretation of Catholic churches in three U.S. regions founded by Catholics, including Northern New Mexico, Southern Louisiana and Eastern Maryland.
“Each location is unique in that New Mexico was founded by the Spanish, Louisiana by the French, and Maryland by the English,” he said.
The project would examine the cultural and architectural similarities and disparities across the regions.
“Studying vernacular architecture and historical interpretation are both disciplines that have been going on for decades,” he said. “However, not much has been done to combine these two disciplines, particularly in the context of any of these aforementioned regions.”
After completing his two ongoing theses, Andonian will begin his history dissertation.
Eventually, Andonian would like to become a director at a historical organization.
“This is how I see the three fields I study come together: history for research skills, historic preservation for practical applied skills on how to manage historic resources, and nonprofit organizations for the organizational management and growth skills necessary to keep going.”
Story by Ben Benson