History and Haunts: An Interview with Dr. Alena Pirok

Dr. Alena Pirok is one of the newest professors to join Armstrong State University’s History Department. An Illinoi native, Dr. Pirok’s main area of research is how Virginians use ghost stories as a way to teach and learn about historical places. As a student in Dr. Pirok’s Colonial/Revolutionary America course during her first semester, I was glad to conduct an interview with her regarding her teaching and historical research.

When Dr. Pirok entered college as a freshman at Southern Illinois University, she did so as an education major. She reveals with a laugh that inconvenient class scheduling was a significant factor in her decision to change majors. “I decided I was just going to major in history and see where that took me,” she says, leading her to ask her professors about their work. After learning what went into being a historian, she says “all that sounded really great to me, so by sophomore year that’s when I started getting really serious.” Dr. Pirok moved on to go to the University of South Florida after completing her undergraduate program, where she’d receive her doctorate in history and graduated in August 2017.

The fall 2017 semester is Dr. Pirok’s first time teaching classes here at Armstrong. She has tried to take some influences from her previous professors and combine them with her own methods. “My teaching style, or what I’m sort of experimenting with now in the classroom, is sort of lecture and document based.” Dr. Pirok believes that “students need more hands-on experience looking at documents” in the classroom to help develop their understanding of history. She draws some influence from her dissertation director to “try to make the classroom more of a discussion than a monologue.” Throughout the semester she has taken her experiences and is using them to continue to improve her methods, finding what doesn’t work and quickly adapting.

Every historian has an area of research that they specialize in. Dr. Pirok’s research lies in Virginian ghost stories and how they tell history. Her interest in this field developed from “a culmination of many things,” including research undertaken during her undergraduate and graduate programs regarding spiritualism and myth-making in American history. Dr. Pirok says that the summer before beginning her PhD she spoke to her advisor about researching ghosts and historical sites. “We were in Virginia at the time at the field school and he said, ‘go read some local ghost stories and see what emerges,’ and that’s really where it started.” After reading some Virginian ghost stories, Dr. Pirok realized that “they were all very historical.” “The moral of every story was,” Dr. Pirok says, “‘Virginia’s so historical that we have ghosts’.” From there she continued her research, studying Colonial Williamsburg’s ties with ghost stories and how such tales helped tell about historic places. She has a clear passion for her research, and intends to continue expanding on it while at Armstrong. “I was very happy that I was offered a job in Savannah because there was this preexisting thanatourism (ghost tourism) and ghost culture that I knew would be receptive to what I do.” She has yet to delve too deeply into Savannah’s ghost culture, but hopes to look at the region as well as other Eastern coastal cities in her future research.

Dr. Pirok will continue to develop her teaching methods and research as Armstrong transitions during the Georgia Southern University merger. She believes that new opportunities will be available for students through cross-campus cooperation.  Dr. Pirok will also be hosting a course this summer that takes students to Virginia for fieldwork involving excavation.


Interview by Brian Lee


About the author

Brian Lee is a junior history major at Armstrong State University. He plans on pursuing a master’s degree after finishing the undergraduate program.


Recommended citation

Lee, Brian. “History and Haunts: An Interview with Dr. Alena Pirok.” Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 7, no.2 (Nov. 2017).


Above Board and Windward: An Interview with Dr. Kurt Knoerl


Dr. Knoerl in pirate costume on Armstrong Day, Oct 19, 2017

As a recent addition to the Department of History at Armstrong State University, Dr. Kurt Knoerl specializes in maritime history, underwater archaeology, and digital history. He believes that accepting a faculty position in Savannah is, “in a way, [his] career coming full circle.” He earned a bachelor of the arts degree in legal studies from State University of New York in Buffalo. During his last semester of undergraduate studies in 1987, he took an introduction to archaeology class and learned about underwater archaeology. His professor encouraged him to explore his new passion and attend a conference in Savannah. He did just that and fell in love with the city and the discipline and went on to earn a master of the arts degree in history and Continue reading

“Savannah as a History Classroom” An Interview with Lydia Moreton, the Curator of Collections for the Coastal Heritage Society

Editorial introduction

ethan interviewLydia Moreton, the Curator of Collections for the Coastal Heritage Society, is an Armstrong graduate, who earned her Masters in Public History in 1999. During the fall semester of 2016 she began her first adventure in teaching, spearheading a museums study class for both graduate and undergraduate students. During this time, she agreed to be interviewed for our journal. A range of topics were discussed, from how she hoped her students would benefit from her class to her current job and the many responsibilities that come with it. What follows are excerpts from this discussion, the first taking place on a park bench in Chippewa Square on September 27, 2016 and the second, a month later, just outside City Hall on October 27, 2016.

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History Matters: An Interview with Dr. June Hopkins

If you were a history major with a serious interest in 20th-century United States history, particularly the New Deal, welfare policy, or FDR, then you are more than familiar with Dr. June Hopkins, who has officially announced her retirement after teaching American history for almost two decades at Armstrong. As a senior who has taken two of Dr. Hopkins’ classes, I was very happy to have the opportunity to interview this well-respected professor.

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