Abigail Lewis, '12
Published: Spring 2012
Honors Thesis Inspires History Student to Pursue Holocaust Studies
Although many undergraduates begin their
college careers with an idea of their future, many
completely change plans during their course of
study. Not so with Abigail (Abby) Lewis, ’12. “Ever since high school,” she says, “I knew I
wanted to study history.”
For the senior from Apex, North Carolina, UNC has presented her with many opportunities to pursue her ambitions of higher study in history. Early on at Carolina, she increasingly came to concentrate her studies on the history of the Holocaust. “I took a class on analyzing camp and gulag memoirs and then gravitated towards that field of study.” Currently a senior honors student
in the Department of History, Lewis has gone on to take numerous upper level and even graduate level courses in history, in addition to learning German and French.
This past summer, she had the chance to use these language skills when she conducted research in Paris for her honors thesis, which she found exhilarating.
“It was fun to sit down in a French library and read original French documents. That’s fun for me. Maybe that’s nerdy, but hanging out in libraries in Paris for a job sounds awesome to me.” She added,“I guess I have a thing for libraries.”
During fall semester, she received a Carolina Center for Jewish Studies Undergraduate Research Grant to conduct additional research utilizing the Fortunoff Video Archive of survivor testimonies, which is housed at Yale University. “Without the Center’s funding, my project would primarily be reading published memoirs and watching interviews available at UNC, but thanks to this funding, I have had access to a greater breadth of resources and I will have a more well rounded project.”
Focusing on French survivor accounts, Lewis’ research explores Jewish identity in Europe in the wake of the Holocaust. She is also interested in the ways memories of survival change over time.“What people say in 1946 versus what they say in 1970 reveals a great deal about the way their own thinking about survival and about witnessing changes over time.”
Lewis will present her research at an honors symposium in the spring, and she intends to convert the thesis into an article for an undergraduate journal. The thesis represents the capstone of a four-year program of intensive historical studies. She will attend graduate school in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. in Jewish History.