Senior thesis propelled Prof. Emily Pears ’08 into academia

Emily Pears ’08

Emily Pears ’08 remembers the moment she realized that she was headed for a career in academia.

As a CMC government major working with Prof. Mark Blitz, she wrote her yearlong senior thesis exploring the logic behind modes of election used in the Constitution.

“That’s what tipped me into going into academia,” Pears said. “I just loved the experience of getting to pick a topic I cared about and diving really deep into the primary source material. Toward the end, I asked Mark: ‘How do I do more of this?’ And he said: ‘You get a Ph.D., and you become a professor.’ And that’s what I did.”

After earning her Ph.D., Pears returned to CMC as an assistant professor of government in 2016. Since then, she’s advised multiple theses, and believes that even for students not contemplating a Ph.D. or other advanced degree, the thesis is vital. The thesis, she said, ensures, “that every senior has academics as a part of their identity.”

“Students develop personas on campus,” she explained. “The athlete. The volunteer. The student government activist. But academics should be front-and-center in a liberal arts education. I think it’s really important that the basketball player also be known as the person writing a thesis on labor markets, and the super RA become the person writing a thesis on Crime and Punishment.”

She still studies the same topics her senior thesis explored. It was the basis for her master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia, and grew into her first book, Cords of Affection: Constructing Constitutional Union in Early American History, published in 2021. 

Shortly after publication, Pears’ work was recognized as the “Best Book in American Political Thought” by the American Political Science Association, an honor that is bestowed annually.

Pears’ current research focuses on the development of patriotic attachments and constitutional union in the American Founding and early 19th century, and she is broadly interested in questions of nationalism and political culture in American political thought. As an affiliated faculty member at the Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World, she said her research interests align with her involvement with the center.

“In addition to providing me with really great research assistants, the Salvatori Center brings speakers and events to campus that allow me to deepen my thinking about my ideas, and then keep talking about those ideas, whether it's with students or with outside speakers,” she said.


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