Story by Kathy McPherson
Samantha Lanevi ’14 has an international background — her father is Swedish, her mother was born in Cuba, she was adopted from China when she was 6 months old and lived in Switzerland until she was 2-and-a-half — and she’s taking an international approach to pursuing a master’s degree in American history. The Wellesley College and Durham Academy graduate will attend England’s University of Cambridge for her Master of Philosophy in American History, and she has been awarded a fellowship from Wellesley to help fund her study.
“I spent a lot of time in Sweden and traveling around Europe, and it’s a place I really wanted to go back to,” Lanevi explained. “So when I was thinking about graduate school, I was looking at going abroad. Since my focus is on American history, people would say that it would be a good idea to do it in America. But I think in order to get another perspective — I’ve done all my education in the United States — I really wanted to try something new and get some different experiences. … You know, I’m turning 26 at the end of the year, so there’s really no time like the present to really take those sorts of opportunities.”
Studying at Cambridge will provide “an opportunity to see if I want to pursue further study or if I’d like to live and work in the United Kingdom or if I want to come back to the U.S. or to New York. I think it’s sort of a time when I don’t really know what’s going to happen next, and I feel fortunate to be able to have that opportunity, to sort of be in that position to not know. I’m not sure if I’ll pursue doctoral work or pursue a law degree or if I’ll go back into the workforce.”
Lanevi’s research topic will be white Southern women during the antebellum period, and she is looking at those women in a way that’s different than might be expected.
“Women in that period, we think of them as having little to no agency. They were sort of housewives or support systems for soldiers fighting on both sides of the war. But in actuality, there were a lot of women who had a lot of power in those times.”
There were women who were slaveholders, women whose husbands “married up” and gained wealth and social power via their wives, Lanevi said. There were also women who were spies for both sides of the Civil War as well.
“I’m going to take that narrative of these women who actually had and exercised a lot of agency. I’m going to connect that to the civil rights era, where you had the murder of Emmett Till, which is something that we had discussed on the Civil Rights Tour at DA. How you have this woman whose false accusation led to his [Till’s] murder, so she wielded her femininity in that way, and then connecting that to the present day when you have these false accusations against Black men by white women.”
Citing the May 2020 viral confrontation between Central Park birdwatcher Christian Cooper, a Black man, and Amy Cooper (no relation), a white woman who was charged with filing a false police report for calling 9-1-1 to report being threatened when Christian repeatedly asked her to comply with park requirements and leash her dog, “all these other cases that are happening right now, that’s something that started in the antebellum period and has continued forward,” Lanevi said. “So that’s the main focus of my research.”
When she heads to Cambridge this fall to begin her studies, Lanevi will be leaving a job in Manhattan with Spink, a London-based numismatic auction house that was founded in 1666. She explained that Spink primarily deals with small collectibles such as coins, stamps, bank notes, commemorative medals and military medals. Lanevi joined Spink in December 2018 as a member of the auction team, took on responsibilities with finance and operations, and is now one of the main people running sales in the New York office.
She has dealt with military uniforms on mannequins, porcelain and Fabergé eggs. “It’s definitely been a crash course in how to package something that’s very fragile and very expensive and have it go to far reaches of the country and the world.”
Lanevi’s passion for history began in DA’s fifth-grade history class taught by Virginia Reves Hall ’91. “That was the first official history class I’d ever taken. I remember really loving it.” She wrote her first research paper, complete with footnotes, in Betsy Brown’s seventh-grade history class. But she said it was Upper School history teacher Mike Spatola who had the most impact on her history studies.
“I had Western World [history] with him, then I did two electives with him and I took AP Gov — four classes with Mr. Spatola. He really taught me everything that I needed to know to be a really good history student,” Lanevi recalled. “We did seminars where you had to cite a piece of evidence every time you spoke. It was a graded, student-run class discussion. Which was terrifying as a 10th-grader, to be told OK, here’s the topic, here are the sources. You’re supposed to just facilitate your own discussion. …
“I have no doubt that really helped me at Wellesley. One of my professors actually commented that I was one of the best students he had in terms of picking out source material and integrating it into my prose for my papers. I 100% credit Mr. Spatola with teaching me how to do that.”
Classes she took with Upper School English and AP Art History teacher Jordan Adair were also pivotal for her. “The discussions that we had in AP Art History, and then I took his Artistic and Literary Response to War my senior year. That was probably one of the best classes I have ever taken at DA or at Wellesley, just the level of discussion we had, watching different films, discussing the films,” she said.
“And then on top of that, being part of the Veterans History Project [an oral history project in conjunction with the Library of Congress], bringing in veterans every couple of weeks. I remember Joe Collie [World War II veteran and DA alumni parent and grandfather] came to speak with us. He was one of the first veterans we had come to speak with us. It was such a tremendous opportunity to be able to learn about it, read the different books, watch the different films, have people come in who had actually lived the experience that we were learning about, and then putting that all together at the end of the year with the Veterans History Project. My friend Riley and I interviewed Brian Knowles, who I believe was a Marine. Just being able to have that multidimensional learning experience was very helpful for me. I have no doubt that DA had a tremendous impact on going to Wellesley, being successful at Wellesley and then moving forward to Cambridge.”
While academics were obviously important, Lanevi said being a part of the golf team was also a tremendously important part of her DA experience. She was a co-founder of the DA girls golf team and played on the team for three years. The DA team won back-to-back conference championships and earned back-to-back runner-up honors at the state tournament her junior and senior years.
Lanevi came home to North Carolina for a few months after graduating from college and helped Greg Murray coach the girls golf team. “Just to be able to see how the team had grown and progressed since I had started it in 2012 was something that was really special and something that I’m really, really proud of. … Just knowing that I was
able to do that, in part because of Mur [Coach Greg Murray] and also because of Mr. Engebretsen [then Director of Athletics Steve Engebretsen]. If it wasn’t for Mr. Engebretsen finding the funds and supporting the team, that would not have been possible. That’s something I’ll always be very thankful to DA for making that possible.”