A Virginia Tech history professor has recently released a book detailing the account of Virginia’s history.
The book, entitled “Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History,” was written by Peter Wallenstein and is the first account of modern history of Virginia written by a historian.
The book is also the product of a collaborative effort from his fall 2005 university Honors Program colloquium, consisting of nine undergraduate students. The students were brought together from a variety of majors and grade levels and researched, wrote and aided Wallenstein.
Wallenstein said the class began with an email from the office manager who schedules classes which asked him to teach a colloquium class for honors students. Hesitant at first, Wallenstein decided to make the class curriculum in an effort to help him write a book about Virginia history.
“(The class description) started with a little question: written any good books lately?” Wallenstein said. “Turned out none of them had.”
The book begins with Roanoke Island, even before Jamestown, and follows history all the way until “the day after tomorrow,” Wallenstein said. Only two books have been previously written about modern Virginia history, and they were published in the 1970s. One book was authored by a literature historian, and the other by a journalist.
“There was never a book that I wanted to use in class; there was always a problem that there was nothing I could use,” Wallenstein said. “This is the book that I would want to use in my class.”
Wallenstein has previously written seven other books — mostly about the history of the U.S. South. The nine undergraduate students who accompanied him in his authorship had “virtually no experience,” Wallenstein said.
“We came in the first day and (Wallenstein) had an outline of the chapters he wanted and we kind of picked what we wanted,” said Bridget Devlin, a senior history major who wrote mainly on World War II.
According to Devlin, deemed “secretary of war and pizza” by her classmates, the students spent long hours in the library and classroom researching and writing, with pizza as their main source of fuel.
“I took a nap in the Civil War section,” Devlin said.
The nine students, all in need of honors credits, signed up for the class after seeing the course description under their honors class options. Coming from different majors and having different interests, their reasons for joining the class varied.
“First of all I needed honors credit, and second of all I love writing and I had been looking for a way to get published,” said Letisha Beachy, an alumnus.
Although many were first drawn to the class because they were in need of a certain number of colloquial credit hours, the ambition of writing a book was a major appeal for them as well.
“I’m still surprised that there is actually a book that I can hold in my hands,” Devlin said.
According to Graham Burkholder, a junior mechanical engineering major, the class also discussed with each other about what they had written during class time, along with researching and writing on their own.
“Everyone in class told me what they thought about (what I had written),” Buckholder said, “it was independent, we were given a lot of freedom, but at the same time we were given a lot of guidance.”
Their efforts finally paid off a couple of weeks ago, around spring break, when the book was finally released and received press attention. Wallenstein participated in the Festival of the Book a couple weekends ago in Charlottesville and was interviewed by C-SPAN.
“We had a nice little conversation about the book,” Wallenstein said. “Talked for 15 to 20 minutes about the book, good questions, nice time.”
Even with the completion of one book, Wallenstein is not slowing down. He has another book coming out this fall and is planning on teaching other classes that are relatively similar to his fall 2005 colloquium course, just not necessarily on as “adventurous of a scale.”
As for his hopes for “Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History,” Wallenstein’s greatest concern, even as an author, is getting readers.
“I want a billion people to read (the book),” Wallenstein said. “My publishers want them to buy it, I want them to read it.”
The nine members of his class, and contributors to the book, include: Anna DeSouza, Victoria Wilson, Bridget Devlin, Graham Burkholder, Marc Thomas, Katie Hoffman, Mike Makara and Emily Jessie. Some students in Wallenstein’s historical methods class also contributed to the book.