Frank Taylor '91 is a journalist and editorial writer.
What has been your vocational path since graduation? How did you end up where you are and what was the process of getting there? Is this what you expected to be doing
After graduating in 1991, I intended to become a professional historian and enrolled in an American History post-1865 M.A. program at Florida State University. About a year and a half into that program, I became seriously disillusioned about my prospects for a career in this field. FSU faculty advised us that there was a glut of people with M.A.s and Ph.D's in history at that time. The department at FSU was also experiencing serious turmoil, with Americanists and Europeonists in rival camps. I was required to have one non-American scholar on my graduate committee and that individual threatened to stop working with all American history majors because of this dispute. This professor began rejecting work I submitted that I believed was of the same standard as previous work for which I had received excellent marks. More generally, I encountered unexpected hostility or apathy to my thesis project, which examined how revivalism in the Confederate Army contributed to evangelical expansion in the post-war South. Not knowing what else to do and incurring substantial student loan debt, I left FSU and began looking for another career.
In 1994 I began working as a journalist for an area newspaper and was promoted to editor within a short time. I have continued in the journalistic profession since that time, now at 21 years. Currently I am an editorial writer for The Fayetteville Observer, one of the largest papers in North Carolina. I completed a journalism M.A. in Communications and Technology at the University of North Carolina in 2014, while continuing my professional work. I have won many awards as a journalist, including the North Carolina Press Association's Freedom of Information Award for 2013. Throughout this time I have never lost my interest in history, and it often informs my work. I've won awards for editorials and columns exploring American military history, the history of U.S. hate-based groups, and the mistreatment of Tory-aligned families in post-Revolutionary North Carolina. I find that my investigative technique merges methods from both historical and journalistic inquiry, with what I believe are stronger results. More academically, my M.A. thesis at UNC focused on fact-checking guidelines for copy editors dealing with scholarly material, especially archaeology. I also chose a historical topic, the North Carolina Board of War during the Revolution, for a research methods class and am considering preparing my research for publication as a scholarly article or possibly expanding it to book length. I always expected to be a writer. What I would be writing has not worked out exactly as expected. I am not disappointed.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
In addition to what's described above, I remain an avid reader of historical works. The critical-thinking skills I learned at Wheaton have proven invaluable in appreciating the relative merits of various works on a wide range of historical issues, including (perhaps especially) topics that were not a substantial focus of any classes I took. One day I might be reading about the expansion of Eurasian steppe tribes, another about collapse of the English monarchy in the later Middle Ages and another about civil rights violations during the Wilson administration. I have remained incurably curious.
In light of your own experiences, what advice would you give to undergraduates? Do you have any advice specifically on making the most of a degree in history?
Keep reading. There will always be more that you don't know than that you do. Don't assume that simply because you've read a book on a subject or took a class on it, you have nothing else to learn. Old ideas are constantly challenged and new truths are revealed in the process. But also never let go of the critical eye, realizing that everyone has something to prove and not all of them are arguing fairly or reasoning accurately. Look for loopholes. Look for further areas for research. Wonder about other perspectives. Be curious.
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
I've explored this answer in my discussion of the first question. I would emphasize the unexpected disconnects. My Wheaton background was not greeted with respect from most scholars and peers I encountered during my history grad program or my journalism grad program (though there were exceptions). Evangelicalism might be an acceptable topic for academic study, but it was distrusted as an acceptable worldview for a scholar. Rival worldviews were embraced without critical appraisal. Critical-thinking in general was less highly valued than in Wheaton classrooms. Wheaton history graduates need to enroll in grad programs with their eyes open. The rules are very different.