A history and philosophy student finds a community

By Kyle Spurr, UM Press Office

MISSOULA – Two years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Maddie Hagan had to self-isolate in her dorm at the University of Montana.

Hagan, a history and philosophy major with a minor in African American studies, was diagnosed with an extremely rare autoimmune disease in the spring of 2018 before her freshman year at UM. The diagnosis of eosinophilic fasciitis meant she had to take high-dose steroids and a chemotherapy drug that wreaked havoc on her immune system.

“It’s a super weird and wacky experience navigating social life and school while sick,” Hagan said.

The treatments lasted two years. And just as Hagan felt better during his freshman year in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has ended social life on campus.

“Fortunately, I’ve really leaned into things that I’m passionate about,” Hagan said. “History and philosophy are two things that fascinate me. The community in both departments is so strong that I had people who helped me and on whom I could count.

Despite the challenges of her diagnosis and the pandemic, Hagan excelled during her time at UM. She was part of a leadership team that brought back the UM History Society. The group, which Hagan led as president for the past three years, hosted movie nights and “Coffee with Profs” meetings that connected students and faculty members.

“She worked with her peers to transform a mostly defunct organization into a thriving space for intellectual exchange and community building,” said Kyle Volk, professor and chair of UM’s history department. “None of these things, which have proven to be essential to the culture of our department, would have happened without Maddie’s leadership.”

In the summer of 2020, Hagan completed an internship at UM’s Department of History, housed in the College of Humanities, to create a COVID-19 Oral History Project. She interviewed a single mother studying at UM, an environmental studies professor struggling with her partner’s illness, and another student from Hagan’s hometown of Portland, Oregon who is passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement. The project has been archived at the Mansfield Library for future generations.

The experience of interviewing all three subjects, particularly on the topic of Black Lives Matter, solidified Hagan’s interest in justice and political activism.

Hagan has authored research articles on abortion justice, disenfranchisement, gender roles in history, selective law enforcement, and government actions.

“The research I’ve done in both history and philosophy is always focused on justice,” Hagan said.

Hagan constantly strives to apply his education to real-world issues, said UM philosophy professor Soazig Bihan.

“She was an excellent student and university citizen during her undergraduate studies, despite the fact that she had to deal with serious personal problems,” Bihan said. “She represents the best that the humanities can bring to the world: genuine intellectual curiosity and generous civic engagement.”

This fall, Hagan will pursue a graduate degree in historic preservation at Columbia University in New York. The two-year graduate program will combine the practice and ethics and theory of historic preservation. Hagan hopes his time at UM and Columbia graduate school will open doors to careers around history in the public sector. She is interested in opportunities with the National Park Service, museums or local government historic preservation offices.

Before entering the next chapter of his life, Hagan still has a few weeks to complete his studies at UM. She is finishing her history thesis on the link between early 20th century black politics and prohibition. She recently presented her thesis at the Northwest Regional Phi Alpha Theta conference in Bellingham, Washington.

“I have a lot between now and graduation,” Hagan said. “It’s scary and stressful but I’m excited.”


Contact: Dave Kuntz, director of strategic communications UM, 406-243-5659, [email protected]