Phi Alpha Theta

“We are a professional society whose mission is to promote the study of history through the encouragement of research, good teaching, publication and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians. We seek to bring students and teachers together for intellectual and social exchanges, which promote and assist historical research and publication by our members in a variety of ways.” – Mission Statement of Phi Alpha Theta.

Today Phil, myself, and some of our friends are being inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, a history honors society. Before entering college, I had never heard of this organization, and I wanted to know a little bit about it before I joined this afternoon. Phi Alpha Theta was founded at the University of Arkansas in 1921 by Professor Nels Cleven. He noted that he believed fraternities to be “an essential spirit of the age…searchers all for Truth in History.” Additionally, he noted that fraternities were essential because “the human side of scholarship needs to be nurtured and thought made articulate.” Cleven realized that there were no history fraternities and became determined to create one, believing that there was a great need for a scholarly history fraternity that accepted both men and women and studied all of human history. On March 14, 1921, Cleven held the first meeting of the University History Society as it was then known. The symbol for the society became a six-pointed star, due to the fact that Cleven had a painting in his office with a six-pointed star of divinity as its focal point. The society was officially formed at this meeting and recognized as a national fraternity on the 17th when it received its Greek letters, Phi Alpha Theta.

The society has since grown vastly and has more than 839 chapters in the United States, more than any other accredited four-year college honor society. Currently, the headquarters are at the University of South Florida, though I could find no reason as to why this shift from Arkansas to Florida occurred. Now that I know the history behind this society, I am very excited to become a member this afternoon!

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