Graduate School
Graduate School

Maria Esther Hammack: Uncovering Hidden History

maria hammack headshot


Hometown: Los Mochis, Mexico

Age: 30

Major: Atlantic World History, MA

Year: Second

Maria Hammack not only is a student of history, but also is making history of her own by conducting rigorous research in an unprecedented area of study: the little-known fact that her native country of Mexico was, along with Canada, a 19th century safe haven for African slaves. Exploring this “hidden history” has enabled the Masters of History candidate to discover the academic within herself and compelled her to pursue new goals and challenges through East Carolina University’s Atlantic World Program.
Maria Hammack

How did you choose your area of graduate study?
The Atlantic World Program at this institution provides a structure through which students can pursue an understanding of history that goes beyond one or two different interpretations, a history more objective and inclusive, less frail and more carefully uncovered. History is not twofold; it is not only right or only wrong. To find truth, we must assess the many angles and vicissitudes in historical accounts that often go beyond a single interpretation. The Atlantic World Program at ECU has the structure and tools that I was looking for to help me research a topic that I had come across in a history class about the Old South. Because of this particular class, I came across primary documents that revealed a history that I had previously failed to learn or even read about in any of my history books. These documents tell of runaway slaves from the Old South who sought freedom across the Rio Grande, in the Republic of Mexico (a young republic that, in 1829, abolished slavery). These accounts, furthermore, began to piece together a hidden but undeniable part of 19th century Atlantic World History; the transnational exchanges in African slaves that occurred along the Mexico-US border, and across the territorial and coastal boundaries of the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. This topic peaks my fascination, particularly because I had only learned that Canada was “the destination” runaway slaves sought. But Mexico as a safe haven for runaway slaves in the 19th century is an unchartered history that has yet to be written, a truly unprecedented area of study. This was the number one incentive that led me to choose my area of graduate study. I realized this was a subject that needed to be researched, and the Atlantic World Program at the ECU offered the necessary tools as well as housed the most qualified and motivated faculty members who could help me weave this research into a Masters’ thesis.

What do you find most challenging/rewarding about your graduate school experience?
The most challenging and simultaneously the most rewarding part of my graduate experience has been the research. The topic I chose to pursue has led to extensive search that often has gone beyond the collections at this institution. Joyner Library, however, has fantastic resources which as truly made my work easier. A lot of my research has been possible because of Interlibrary Loan, through which I’ve been able to borrow works from other institutions. The British Parliamentary Papers, housed at Joyner Library (found in the quiet environment of the basement) has made all the difference in my ability to trace the Atlantic connections to the transnational exchanges in African slaves of the 19th century between and across the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. The most rewarding experience, undoubtedly, has been the thrill of reading primary sources containing information that is not found in history books, as well as the knowledge that this research will hopefully enhance and influence what we know about Atlantic World history.

What is cool about your area of study and why should people care about it?
My area of study has seldom been explored. It is a hidden history that needs to be studied and incorporated to the history we do know, in order for us to appreciate a more complete picture of the past. The complexities of the movements and the exchanges I am researching shaped a pivotal era in Atlantic World History — one that must be carefully studied as an intrinsic part of the history, including the Abolition of Slavery in the United States, 19th century abolitionist efforts outside of the United States, and the historic Underground Railroad.

Tell us about any Academic Awards/Recognitions/Publications you may have achieved:

  • Lawrence F. Brewster Fellowship
  • William Hamlin and Mary Quaife Tuttle Graduate Fellowship
  • History Honors Research Paper Award
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Academic Merit Award
  • Outstanding History Senior Award
  • Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding ECU Senior Nomination
  • Parent’s Council Scholarship
  • American Red Cross, Five Year Service Volunteer Recognition
  • The Miller Moore Scholarship Award
  • Honors College Special Talent Award
  • Ledonia Wright Academic Achievement Recognition
  • The Harvard Book Award

What recognition are you most proud of and why?
It is hard to pinpoint a recognition that has been on top of others. In terms of time and dedication, most measure at the same level. I can say that today I am most proud of and utterly thankful for having come across a number of individuals that have taken an active part in my education and my learning experience. Living so far away from home (Mexico), I did not have that parental guidance close by to support me, challenge me, and motivate me like most college students have. The professors, staff and individuals that I met at this institution have made a difference in my personal and academic life. Had I not come across outstanding faculty and staff members my hard work and determination would have been truly hindered. The recognitions and awards that I have received are a reflection of not only my hard work and motivations, but they are also a reflection of the dedication, excellence, and qualifications of the faculty and staff at ECU’s History Department. They have been there to guide me, advise me, and challenge me to constantly strive to do better and be better as an individual, as an historian, and as a professional.

How do you think your ECU graduate education has helped you?
My ECU graduate education has allowed me to discover the academic within me. It has challenged me to pursue new goals that I previously did not entertain. My experience as a graduate student in the MA history program and the skills that I have learned here are tools that I can use to apply for competitive PhD programs of my choice. The rigorous research skills, class structure, and guidance that I have received from my professors at the History department are tools that will help me for the rest of my life.

What would you say to someone considering ECU as a potential graduate school?
ECU exudes excellence. We have programs that are considered top-notch, not just nationally but worldwide. Our Graduate Maritime Studies Program and our Nautical Archeology and Anthropology programs are just a few that have been on the news recently and ranked number one on the list of the top 10 graduate institutions in the country. The Atlantic World Program is one that is also on its way, especially with the research its graduate students are currently conducting. ECU is not a good choice for the future, it is an outstanding choice. We have the most qualified faculty with repertoires from the most distinguished and renowned institutions. It is faculty that cares about their students as individuals and not just as a number or a face in a class. Our professors go above and beyond, work after hours, stay behind after class to assist students who ask for help, and are approachable and dedicated.

Hobbies: I am passionate about cooking and recreating recipes that I learned from my grandmother growing up in Mexico. I also extremely enjoy doing manual crafts like making jewelry and hand-made and homemade Christmas decorations. I learned how to sew when I was 10, and when I have time I like making cushions, curtains, table cloths, and anything to help me decorate my apartment. I was homeschooled up until I was 15 and my parents instilled in me (and my seven siblings) to use our imagination to have fun. I am also quite involved in volunteer work with the American Red Cross, at my local chapter. I am part of the disaster assessment team (DAT) who assist the local emergency response units in when disasters hit. I have been a volunteer for eight years now and the experiences that I have attained through the organization have been most rewarding. Volunteering has been one of the most rewarding hobbies that I have ventured myself into.

7:00 am-8:00 am I wake up, take a shower, and eat a light breakfast
8:00 am-8:45 am I drive to school, struggle to find parking, and once I am on campus I head to grab coffee at the nearest coffee shop (which is usually Starbucks in Joyner or the Wright Building).
8:45 am-9:00 am I do research online at the History lab. I search different databases for primary sources that I can use in my thesis. I also spend some time collecting information on conferences, grants, fellowships, and PhD programs that I might be interested in applying to. I like their computers because the monitors there are large and the seats are comfortable.
9:00am-2:00pm I walk from the Brewster Building to Joyner Library for work. I work as a GA for College Star/Project STEPP housed on the 2nd floor of the library. And I usually spend several hours during the day there. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class from 11:00 am to 12:15 in Brewster, so I usually walk back for my class.
2:00pm-3:00pm I go get lunch and take a book, a friend, or a classmate.
3:00pm-7:00pm I come back find a quiet place at Joyner Library to study, do homework that needs to be done. I often conduct research, order books through inter-library loans, and mostly read books and documents pertaining to my research. Tuesdays and Thursday I often schedule time to meet with my advisor to discuss my Thesis.
7:00pm-8:00pm I try to get to the gym for at least 45 minutes to de-stress and have a nice workout.
8:00pm-11:00pm I get home, cook some dinner, and often also do some living room and kitchen cleaning.
11:00pm-12:00pm I often read documents for my thesis, and go through the day's e-mails and reply to the one that are time sensitive. I also often pay bills online, and check deadlines, meetings and things due the next day.
12:00am-6:00am Sleep
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Maria Hammack

maria and marilyn sheerer


College & Dept.: Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, History

Clubs & Organizations: Member of Phi Alpha Theta, Phi Kappa Phi, American Red Cross (Pitt County Chapter), Association of Mexicans in North Carolina (AMEXCAN), Latin American Studies Association

Internships: I worked at the Pitt County Register of Deeds while I was an undergraduate. I worked full time and simultaneously attended school full time. While my position was not that of an intern, the job did help me in attaining many skills that have undoubtedly enhanced my personal and professional career and goals. In my senior year, I became certified by the North Carolina School of Goverment as a Deputy Register of Deeds.

Favorite class: History 3444: Old Regime and Revolutionary France taught by Dr. Anoush Terjanian

Professor who has influenced you the most: Dr. Angela T. Thompson

Dream job: University Professor of History or Human Rights Lawyer

Reasons for choosing Atlantic World History: The Faculty & the content of the classes offered.

Your words to live by: "The world needs more people who work more and criticize less, who promise less and resolve more, who expect to gain less but purposely give more, people who say let's do it today instead of waiting for tomorrow."  - Ernesto Guevara

Significant life lesson you’ve learned while at ECU: I learned that dedication and determination can change your life.