Every year, UCFs College of Arts and Humanities recognizes a graduate student for outstanding work on their thesis. The award focuses on the quality and contribution of the student’s thesis research and brings with it a nomination for the university-level Award for the Outstanding Master’s Thesis. This year’s recipient of the Award for Outstanding Master’s Thesis is Matt Patsis ’14 ’20MA, whose thesis is entitled “The Troupes Coloniales: A Comparative Analysis of African American and French Colonial Soldiers in the First World War.”
Patsis’ thesis examines the service of African American soldiers during World War I in comparison with the service of French Colonial soldiers from Africa. Through comparative analysis, this research reveals the relationship between white supremacy and imperialism and provides context to the present-day racial tension in the United States.
“My hope is that it helps contextualize some of the dynamics of racial tension in this country,” Patsis says, “To frame it in a way that other parts of the world have framed it in the past — it’s all part of a bigger, broader experience in what white supremacy really is.”
Patsis’ work left a strong impression on his thesis committee chair Ezekiel Walker, Associate Professor of History: “Matthew’s thesis transcends the conventional scholarship both in its conceptual framework and novel interpretation,” says Walker. “Indeed, it is a tour de force of critical engagement with the relevant secondary and primary sources and the deployment of discursive analysis to highlight the United States’ role as an ‘imperialist power.’”
For Patsis, the most challenging aspect of his research involved connecting the different experiences of African American and French Colonial soldiers. “The hardest part for me was to zoom out and say okay, these experiences were very different…but how are the differences similar?” he explains. “Even if the conditions themselves are separate, the meaning tells a story too.”
Patsis hopes that his thesis will help unravel the way historical issues are the driving forces behind racial tension. As a social studies teacher for Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, this notion informs his teaching methodology: “I like to tell my kids that nothing we experience is an accident,” he says. “It’s the complicated parts that require contextualizing to survive today that I really enjoy teaching.”
To read the thesis, visit https://stars.library.ucf.edu/etd2020/396/