I Spy a Winning Dissertation: History Doctoral Student Receives Prestigious U.S. Army Fellowship

Matthew Vajda, a doctoral student in the Department of History at Kent State University, has been selected as one of only two recipients of a coveted $15,000 fellowship stipend from the U.S. Army Center of Military History for the academic year 2023-2024.

Matthew Vajda, doctoral student in Department of History

This prestigious fellowship is awarded to individuals from a highly competitive pool of approximately 50 applicants representing institutions across the nation.

The primary purpose of this distinguished fellowship is to encourage and support the production of dissertations that delve into the intricacies of military history. Beyond the financial support, this fellowship opens doors to invaluable resources, connections with experts in the field, and opportunities for further academic and professional growth.

Vajda's research focus centers on shedding light on a lesser-known historical figure, Major General Ralph Van Deman (1865-1952). Van Deman, who was born in Delaware, Ohio, now recognized as "the father of American military intelligence," played a pivotal role in establishing the first effective, professional intelligence and counterintelligence organization within the Army's Military Intelligence Division in 1917. Vajda's dissertation aims to unravel the complexities of Van Deman's life and work, filling in gaps in historical knowledge and examining his influences.

"Being able to explore the archives at Fort McNair and the Carlisle Barracks and analyze the military papers of Ralph Van Deman will provide insight into how he ticked and how he went about professionalizing military intelligence," Vajda said.

Vajda's advisor, Brian Hayashi, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of History, feels Vajda's research is significant due to the limitations of existing literature on Van Deman, stating, "There are small writings on the subject, but none of them are very thorough, and the ones that are most frequently cited lack the depth or understanding of the subject."

Official portrait of Ralph Van Deman as a Colonel

"They also fail to place Van Deman's work within the larger trajectory of the professionalization of intelligence, preferring instead to cast him simply as a control freak or as someone desiring an oppressive police system with which to control the Filipino 'natives' before they get restless," Hayashi said. "These crude liberal portrayals, as I see it, lack the sophistication and the thoroughness in the usage of historical records available regarding Van Deman."

Vajda's research plan is multifaceted encompassing the historical context of military intelligence, espionage, and counterintelligence, as well as Van Deman's pivotal role in shaping the development of military intelligence agencies in the United States. His work also delves into archival research to understand Van Deman's perspectives, particularly his opposition to Japanese internment during World War II.

"Matt shows the long trajectory of American intelligence from its inception during the Revolutionary War and how John Jay established it, down to World War I when Van Deman first appears," Hayashi noted. "This set the basis for American intelligence during the Interwar Years."

Vajda's academic journey
Vajda's passion for history ignited during his elementary school days in New York and has continued to burn brightly throughout his academic journey. He has a particular interest in U.S. history, with a focus on the American Revolution and Early Republic era. During his undergraduate studies, he explored the role of militias and their loyalties in events like Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786. He graduated from Framingham State University and Worcester State University (both in Massachusetts), with a BA and MA in History, respectively.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Vajda has gained teaching experience through his Ph.D. program at Kent State and as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame College near Cleveland.

After graduation, Vajda aspires to secure an academic position in a history program, though he acknowledges the challenges in the academic job market, particularly amidst recent controversies related to localism and critical race theory (CRT). Nevertheless, he remains committed to presenting a balanced view of history and highlighting various perspectives.

Vajda's skills in research, critical thinking, and analytical writing are not limited to academia. He is open to exploring career opportunities in the government, non-profit organizations and the private sector.

In addition to studying military history, Vajda has broader interests in political history, the Atlantic World, and the historical contexts of and history's influence on music, particularly heavy metal. In his free time, he follows New England sports (Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics) and enjoys listening to heavy metal and hard rock music.

To learn more about the Department of History at Kent State University, visit: http://www.kent.edu/history

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Media Contact:
Jim Maxwell, jmaxwel2@kent.edu, 330-672-8028

POSTED: Tuesday, October 10, 2023 09:13 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 10, 2023 11:15 AM
Jim Maxwell