The 2023 SFU History honours cohort visiting Iriving House, New Westminster. Undergraduate Medal Winner Julian Polanski is pictured centre. Cohort members from Left to Right are: Kate Reid, Rachel Anderson, Emma Lesko, Letian Wang, Julian Polanski, James Kirwan-Wallace, Hayleigh Giesbrecht, and Mike Lomanski.


Finding a home and a path for the future with SFU History

June 14, 2023

Like many of our students, Julian Polanski arrived at SFU with energy, ambition, and intelligence, but unsure of what path to take. He found a home in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Department of History. “When I began my studies at SFU I was not at all sure of what I wanted to study,” says Polanski. “On the one hand, I liked Criminology because it sought to understand the motivations of people traditionally dismissed as evil or irrational; on the other, I was intrigued by International Studies as I wanted to understand how the world worked politically and economically. History combined both: it shed light on complex global problems and fostered understanding for historically neglected and disregarded actors.”

As part of his studies, Polanski explored regions and themes as diverse as Colonialism in Central Asia, Premodern Japan, and Modernity in the Middle East. While doing so, he discovered a deep interest in themes of mobility, and a fascination with the diversity, contested nation-building projects, and postcolonial legacies of modern Africa. “In my honors thesis I sought to understand how the decolonization of southern Africa was understood by American conservatives. My paper argued that white supremacy animated American conservative coverage of decolonization much more pronouncedly than previous scholars estimated.”

Through all of his regular and honours classes, Polanski achieved outstanding academic success. According to Associate Dean Lara Campbell, “Julian’s excellence is reflected in his standing on the President’s and Dean’s Honour Roll, numerous scholarships over multiple semesters, and significant achievements in research and coursework.” One of Polanski’s undergraduate essays won the William L. Cleveland Essay Prize and will be published in the forthcoming issue of Duke Historia Nova, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.

In addition to his academic achievements, Polanski volunteered as a Writing and Learning Peer Educator with the Student Learning Commons, helping other students with their core skills in writing and learning. As a volunteer, Polanski found himself learning as much as teaching. “It was never a one-sided exchange… I always learned something too. For example, before I began volunteering, I rarely developed a plan for my essays much less a detailed outline — I tried outlining my next essay in the way I had discussed in the past with students and it paid dividends: it made my writing much more concise and focused.” Polanski suggests that any student who feels they have the time to put themselves forward for volunteer opportunities on campus. “You don’t need to know everything or be an expert — you are not a professor. Volunteering will benefit you be it in your writing skills, oral presentation skills or something else. Rather than detracting from your studies, volunteering will help you gain new competencies.”

After graduation, Polanski will be starting a PhD program in African History at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he will continue his work on migration histories and nationalist projects in southern Africa, this time with a particular focus on Zimbabwe. “I would like to thank all the professors who helped me get to where I am today. If the SFU history department has one strength it is certainly the faculty.”

Julian Polanski is graduating in June 2023 with a BA (Hons. First Class with Disinction) and has been awarded the FASS Undergraduate Dean’s Medal. Congratulations Julian!


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