New cohort of Living History Scholars to engage with the past in innovative ways

Elaheh Khazi, Maddie Pira, Mia Powell, and Alan Zhou have been named 2024 Living History Scholars by the Department of History. The program fosters research that engages with history in creative ways and aims to contribute knowledge beyond the university.

Professor Iver Bernstein, who directs Living History Scholars, said the program is thriving in its third year. This ​year, the initiative doubled the number of applicants — including students from across the humanities and social sciences — and the number of awardees.

“The projects of the Living History Scholars awardees astound with their capacious and rigorous historical imagination,” Bernstein said. “Their humanitarian vision will tell the stories and enhance the visibility of underrepresented peoples, and frame necessary conversations about difficult pasts that can educate and inspire.”

Elaheh Khazi, Maddie Pira, Mia Powell, and Alan Zhou

Elaheh Khazi, a first-year student who hopes to major in global studies, political science, and history, will focus her research on the history and experience of the Afghan-American diaspora. Khazi, who is Afghan American, will interview Afghan individuals in St. Louis and across the U.S. to create a website showcasing an “accurate and representative narrative” of the community.

Maddie Pira’s project will examine the memory of the trauma of the Filipino individuals who were part of “living exhibits” during the 1904 World’s Fair. Pira, a sophomore majoring in political science, plans to interview artists and historians for a story map that will compare the narratives of the two groups, provide a nuanced version of that history, and amplify Filipino voices.

Mia Powell, a sophomore majoring in history and English, is researching Elizabeth Needham, an 18th-century brothel-keeper who once dominated the discourse surrounding criminality, sexuality, and femininity. Powell is working on a historical novella using primary source material, secondary literature, spatial analysis, and conceptual analysis to better understand and embody the life of her famous subject.

Alan Zhou, an aspiring filmmaker, is creating a documentary about Henry Hampton Jr., AB ‘61, and the politics of historical storytelling. Hampton founded Blackside Inc., one of the largest minority-owned film production companies in the late 20th century, and produced the award-winning PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize” about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Zhou, a sophomore majoring in film and media studies and political science, will have access to primary sources including interviews he is conducting with Blackside team members, archival footage, and Hampton’s personal papers housed in the Olin Library.

The students will showcase their projects at the end of the semester during a Department of History gala. All four said they are grateful for the support and transformative opportunities they've experienced as Living History Scholars.

“It’s extremely rare for a university to give undergraduates the resources and freedom to conduct their own research,” Powell said. “I’ve gained confidence in myself as a scholar by being able to choose what to research and command those facts in a unique, experimental way.”  

Applications for the 2025 Living History Scholars program will be due in mid-November. Interested students are encouraged to contact Bernstein (