Victoria Witkowski, a junior from Dousman, Wis., is this year's winner of the Geifman Prize in Holocaust Studies, an annual student competition with awards up to $500.
Profile: Dr. Jane Simonsen
How would you describe your interest of history in a single sentence?
How about a haiku?
Life -- so meaningless, empty!
Do not be a chump.
What is your favorite historical location and why?
There is a Protestant church in Regensburg, Germany (a historically Catholic town in Bavaria), where I've twice spent a few months, that smells like old wood and oil inside and has a tower you can climb to overlook the town.
In the churchyard are the very elaborate grave markers of various people who served as electors on the Perpetual Diet (a legislative body). They are carved with symbols of their family status and include lots of skulls. Whenever I walk under the railroad bridge in the Village of East Davenport, it reminds me of that church, and of a whole city so incredibly rich with history.
What was your favorite band growing up?
As a small child, we spent a lot of time listening to Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans' "Space Songs," from 1959. (My dad taught physics and astronomy). I can still sing you "Zoom a Little Zoom" and "Why Does the Sun Shine?" Some of these got remade in the '90s by They Might Be Giants. But when I got my first boom-box at 11, it was Duran Duran all the way.
What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you while teaching?
At my previous institution, while I was teaching a course on the history of marriage, students chose to perform a "mock wedding" for their final exam. They went all out, with cross-dressing, an interracial couple, a wedding planner and a conscientious objector who related historical flaws in the institution of marriage. I sang Johnny Cash's "Jackson", and you won't see that again.
Certainly having students in Holden Village examine toilet seats and postcard walls as historical artifacts won't be forgotten.
What was the topic of the favorite paper that you have written?
In sixth grade, I wrote a biography of the pioneering African-American opera singer Marian Anderson. It was my first real history paper. It had a purple construction-paper cover, a plastic binder on it to signify its importance, and pencil illustrations by me. I'm sure that it was basically a summary of someone else's biography, but it introduced me to women's history and to black women's roles in civil rights, and it's still one of my favorite papers.