As fast as Susan Sommers is moving these days, it doesn't appear as if she would have any time to look to the past. But that is exactly what she specializes in.
Ms. Sommers is a professor of history at Saint Vincent College and writer of numerous articles and books about 18th century British history. Ms. Sommers was also the keynote speaker at last month's Quarry Project conference at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Va.
The conference is designed to introduce Freemasons to professional historians and trained personnel who work in the Masonic libraries and archives. This is to familiarize novice researchers with the best practices to help them with their own research," she said.
Ms. Sommers also served on a panel at the conference on how to be a historian and how to do it right, she said.
"It is tremendously flattering that I was invited," she said.
Ms. Sommers, 52, of Hempfield, has been a professor at the college in Unity since 1993 and teaches a variety of history classes. There isn't a time in her life when she doesn't remember loving history.
"I didn't have a chance. I grew up in a house that started as a log cabin and has its own history. And my mother had an antiques shop and my dad was a gifted amateur historian," Ms. Sommers said.
Her first job was at her mother's shop, and family vacations were often to historical re-enactments and theme vacations to historic battlefields and sites.
"It is natural that I love history," she said.
When it came time for college, Ms. Sommers chose history for all four of her degrees.
"I always knew I would teach," she said.
In addition to teaching history, Ms. Sommers loves to write about it. Her latest book, "Thomas Dunckerly and English Freemasonry" (Pickering &Chatto) was published in 2012. Ms. Sommers also authored an article, "Robert Thomas Crucefix, Redux," published in the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism in September.
She was also a contributor to "British Freemasonry, 1717-1813," five volumes that were published by Pickering & Chatto.
Why British history?
"I've built my research on my graduate research, which was 18th century British politics. I chose it because I didn't want to compete with my father, who was an expert in American history, and I didn't want to learn German," she said.
Ms. Sommers likes the 18th century because "it is long enough ago that we don't know everything about it. But not so long ago that we don't recognize life. Things are often vaguely familiar -- you could get a newspaper and a cup of coffee back then.''
Her recent research has focused on the fraternal societies of the 18th century including the Freemasons. Ms. Sommers said that until recent years, the Masonic archives were not open to researchers.
"Now that the archives are open for research, we have been able to learn so much more about society of that time," she said.
Ms. Sommers has several more articles and books on her plate.
"We can learn a lot about self by looking back. Human nature doesn't change. The way we do things tells a lot about us," she said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published October 17, 2013 1:12 AM