Sophomore’s Historical Research Becomes Published on the History News Network

Alyssa Spinosa hopes to eventually attend law school after graduating from MC. ALYSSA SPINOSA/COURTESY

By: Jocelyn Visnov, Editor-in-Chief

Alyssa Spinosa has shed light on the legacy of recently deceased feminist icon Charlene Mitchell. With the help of Professor Adam Arenson, Ph.D, Spinosa’s research on Mitchell was recently published to the History News Network. 

Spinosa is a sophomore majoring in history with a minor in philosophy. She conducted research on Mitchell’s story as part of her coursework for HIST 300: Historical Methods taught by Arenson, professor of history at Manhattan College.. 

Spinosa decided to focus her research on Mitchell when she discovered that Mitchell was the first woman of color to receive a nomination to run for president.

“What really interested me was I thought Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to run for president because she’s widely reported as so, which is false,” Spinosa said. “But that’s because she ran as a Democrat while Charlaine Mitchell actually ran as a communist, which really interests me.” 

Spinosa explained that this common misconception in history made for a slightly more strenuous research process.

“It was actually really difficult to find sources on her just because she is so underrepresented in history,” Spinosa said. “A lot of the sources I found were interviews and press conferences. And within her campaign, she had this one pamphlet, which is kind of what I based my research around.” 

From her research, Spinosa learned that Mitchell’s run for president was unlike traditional campaigns at the time. 

“So, she ran as a communist, but not in a way that a traditional American would think.” Spinosa said. “She kind of presented this campaign as an economic-based campaign, rather than communism as a replacement for democracy.” 

Mitchell had chosen an unexpected partner to be her running mate. 

“Her running mate was a white male, which is something I didn’t expect.” Spinosa said.

After reading that Mitchell had recently died over the holiday break, Arenson was reminded of Spinosas recent research and reached out about trying to send her work to be published. 

As a history scholar, Arenson has previously had his work published to the History News Network. Arenson now strives for similar success from his students. 

“I am definitely very focused on helping students, you know, find the right topics and then write them in the most compelling way,” Arenson said. 

After learning that the History News Network was potentially interested in publishing Spinosas work, the two worked together to shorten the originally 17 page research paper into a size suitable for the website. 

“There was definitely a lot of need to cut it down.” Arenson said. “And really to focus on the key moments that would interest the wider public, right? Some of what’s in the paper is like the historiography talking about the ways in which Charlene Mitchell has or hasn’t been written about, and really everything had to be stripped down to really make the point as quickly as possible.” 

Their work was posted to the History News Networks website on January 8th, 2023 under a joint byline. The published piece explains Spinosas findings with a more in depth explanation of the untraditional campaign. 

“As Ms. Spinosa’s research has discovered, Mitchell constructed a campaign that presented Communism as an economic solution to the racism embedded in America’s capitalism.” The article read. “This allowed Americans to perceive Communism in a way that was not a threat to their democracy. Mitchell emphasized what we would now call democratic socialism, in her effort to advocate for Communist values within the U.S. political system in the height of the Cold War.”

The piece ends with a conclusion statement about other political icons who made history but gained more recognition. 

“In 1972, Shirley Chisholm ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidency,” The article reads. “Hillary Clinton became the first major-party nominee in 2016, and Kamala Harris the first woman and first person of color to be Vice President in 2020. This is history you do know. But Charlene Mitchell deserves to be better known – for her decades of activism and labor organizing, alongside Angela Davis and other Black leaders, in and out of the Communist Party. And for her run for President.” 

Spinosa expressed her gratitude for Arensons help and dedication during the process. “Without him [Arenson] this would not have been possible,” she said. 

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