Sophomore bound for Cambridge via Abraham-Broad Exchange Program

Duncan College’s Knutson will study early modern period in England

Mikayla Knutson is bound for England as the winner of the Abraham-Broad Exchange Program scholarship, a highly competitive fellowship at Rice. The program supported by a generous donor provides for one year of study at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College.

Mikayla Knutson, who is studying history and political science, is bound for England as the winner of the Abraham-Broad Exchange Program scholarship.

Mikayla Knutson, who is studying history and political science, is bound for England as the winner of the Abraham-Broad Exchange Program scholarship.

Knutson, a Duncan College sophomore, won’t be the only student switching schools for the year, said Danika Brown, director of curriculum and fellowships at Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership.

“Rebecca Shepherdson, a geography student from Cambridge, will be coming to Rice next year on the exchange to study a variety of sociology courses and to participate in community-based learning and research activities,” Brown said. “We are looking forward to sending Mikayla to Trinity and to welcoming Rebecca here, continuing the long history of exchanges that the Abraham-Broad program has enabled.”

Knutson, who is studying history and political science, described finding out about her Abraham-Broad win as “Christmas morning as a 5-year-old times 10.”

“The Abraham-Broad scholarship program is, in my opinion, one of the best opportunities offered by Rice,” she said. “To study abroad for a year is exciting enough, but this program gives me the unique opportunity to study at Cambridge while accessing centuries-old records archived there and being guided by experts in my areas of particular interest.”

Last year, Knutson was the only underclassman to win a Fondren Library Research Award, taking home honorable mention for a project that used geographic information system software to plot data from primary source documents relating to Reconstruction in post-Civil War Vicksburg, Mississippi. At Cambridge, the history buff is looking forward to a feast of primary sources from one of her favorite eras: the early modern period in England.

In 2015, Pope Francis apologized to the Waldensian Church, a pre-Martin Luther Protestant movement, for the Catholic Church’s “non-Christian and even inhumane attitudes and actions done in history against (them).” Knutson researched the nature of those  “inhumane” actions and learned about the 1655 massacre of the Waldenses by forces of Savoy and France, presumably at the instruction of the Vatican, during the apex of treaty negotiations between Cromwellian England and Louis XIV’s France. This, she said, was just one example of the Waldensians’ repeated persecution.

“These early modern events remain highly emotive in the present day,” she said. “Indeed, the Waldensian Church summarily rejected the Pope’s apology.”

At Cambridge, Knutson plans to study the interplay between religion, culture and multi-state diplomacy during the early modern period, particularly exploring the contexts under which England championed Protestant causes such as the Vaudois, as the Waldensian Church was then called.

“Cambridge University houses archives critical to this analysis,” Knutson said, citing a 1655 charge from Sir Oliver Cromwell to Sir Samuel Morland, sending Morland to Savoy to advocate for the Vaudois. From 1655 to 1658, Morland collected manuscripts detailing Vaudois history prior to and including the 1655 massacre.

“Upon his return to England, Morland deposited his record at Cambridge University, where it remains,” Knutson said. “I can’t wait to put my white-gloved hands on these centuries-old treasures.”

She’s also excited about soaking up modern English culture while she’s there: punting on the Cam, attending evensong at Trinity Chapel, trying British cuisine and picking up a few new sports.

“I would like to learn rowing and the finer points of cricket,” Knutson said. “I’m looking forward to trying English food — Cornish pasties, bangers and mash — and taking study breaks in local pubs.”

With her two monthlong term breaks, she has other research trips planned across the country and the continent: family genealogy work in Cornwall, archives in Dublin and Geneva, another promising set in The Hague and hiking in the Vaudois valleys in the French Alps.

“And I note that this summer marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so I expect there will be plenty of commemorative events in Europe leading up to the 75th anniversary of V-E Day,” Knutson said. “If there is such an event for the Battle of the Bulge during term break in December or January, I would hope to attend.”

Between history side trips and a semester spent doing intense research, Knutson may be too busy to miss much of Houston while she’s abroad. But she does anticipate getting homesick for a few things during her exchange year, including “giant refillable soft drinks, great barbecue, plentiful air conditioning and real Tex-Mex.”

“Does Torchy’s ship queso to the U.K.?” she asked.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.