Westfield State University History Professor Mara Dodge admits she was a bit dubious when her student Zachary Carlson wanted to write about the rise and fall of Fall River, Mass., spanning a 100-year period, all within a 30-page research paper. His idea was to compare the experience of Fall River’s textile fortunes with the four Massachusetts mill towns of Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford and Holyoke, and she was concerned whether he could present the research in a concise and compelling way in that amount of space.
She needn’t have worried.
Not only did the junior history and political science double major receive an A+ on the paper, “he succeeded beyond all my expectations,” she said.
The research paper served as a launching pad of sorts for Carlson, who was invited by Dodge to revise his paper into a manuscript worthy of being submitted to an academic journal. This is only the second time she has asked an undergraduate student to take that extra step. In the spring semester, Carlson worked eight hours a week on his paper, which involved conducting lots of additional research, interviewing scholars and visiting the Fall River Public Library collections and other repositories.
Dodge also invited Carlson to serve as an intern this past spring for the Historical Journal of Massachusetts, a peer-reviewed journal published twice a year by Westfield State’s History Department.
Carlson chose the topic of his research paper because he has lived in Fall River most of his life and his ancestors worked in the textile industry there. The ancestors on his mother’s side of the family were unskilled workers who immigrated to Fall River from Ireland in the mid-1850s at a time when the city was industrializing. His ancestors, including some on his father’s side of the family, worked as weavers, loom operators and as general laborers.
Through his research, Carlson concluded that “Ultimately the fall of the industry was connected to mill owners’ failure to capitalize on advancing technology, along with overproduction and competition from the south.”
“The history of Fall River, though mostly forgotten, is a proud history. The people of the city worked hard and turned their community into one of the world’s leading textile communities,” Carlson said. “This was built on the backs of the hardworking laborers, such as my ancestors. I feel great pride in that fact.”
Carlson presented his research, titled “Spindle City to Forgotten City, A Story of a Century, 1865-1965” at the 22nd annual Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference at the University of Massachusetts in April.
After graduating from Westfield State, Carlson plans to attend law school and ultimately teach at the collegiate level.
“The best part about attending Westfield is the fantastic faculty here has helped me identify my passions and what I want to do with the rest of my life” Carlson said.