Bryce Cullinane
History & Political Science majors; Class of '08; SBU Men's Swim Team; & URECA Summer '06 Researcher

Research Mentor:
Susan Hinely, Professor, History Department
David Eisenberg, Lecturer, Political Science


To be honest, the first 7 weeks were very frustrating when I was gathering information. Because I wanted to do something that wasn't just executive privilege from George Washington to Ford. I wanted to focus on a more specific topic that was more original. And it turned out that I really did have something original there. . . but at the time I didn't really see it.

Interview: read more >>


Researchers of the Month: past features

Researcher of the Month

About Bryce
brycecullinaneWhile still a sophomore, Bryce Cullinane received the URECA Summer Program award funding what began as a paper for a History 300 class on American & International Legal History— and developed into a 115-page legal history of executive privilege. Bryce also had the honor of being selected for the History Department's Gardiner Scholarship, a $1000 award usually reserved for upperclassmen; and is a member of Phi Alpha Theta (history honors society) and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. What's more, Bryce is an impressive athlete as well as scholar, a dedicated member of Stony Brook men's swim team coached by Dave Alexander.

Being on the swim team means hours and hours of practice. But this past summer, Bryce also put hours and hours into doing extensive research and scholarship on the power of the President of the United States to withhold information from Congress. He explored some of the original documents and collections which we have right here in Stony Brook's Library (including the Jacob Javits Collection, and Government Documents), working under the mentorship of Professor Susan Hinely of the History Department as well as David Eisenberg, J.D.of the Department of Political Science. Through the URECA summer experience, Bryce got a new perspective on what historical research is all about, acquiring knowledge and skills some students only obtain when they do a senior year honors thesis or capstone project :

I learned so much about the process of doing research through this. I started out with this very, very big topic. Looking back on it, it was quite naïve, because it was too ambitious. It would have been a little wiser to, say, alright, I'm going to look at Truman through Ford vs. this whole time span. . .There are so many challenges along the way. First of all, having to come up with your own project. . .. In most classes, the teacher says, here's your topic. . . .you write it and that's it. But comparatively, coming up with your own idea. . . that's where I had the biggest learning curve — learning how to come up with an original idea for a paper.

Bryce does plan to do a honors senior project next year. For now, though, he is getting ready to submit his work on executive privilege, particularly concerning the period from President Truman to President Ford, to the Long Island Historical Journal, and will also be working on a related article for an upcoming issue of The Patriot. Be sure to look for Bryce at the URECA Celebration next April: he will be one of the featured undergraduate presenters talking at the History Research Conference, a symposium which has been held concurrently with the URECA Celebration for half a dozen years now.

brycesurfingBorn and raised in southern California, Bryce Cullinane is a student with a wide array of interests ranging from surfing to Plato to gay rights to economics. He is an avid reader, has a deep love of classical history as well as art & art history, and can be found many a Sunday afternoon taking in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. As a double major in both History & Political Science, Bryce likes nothing better than going to office hours, and engaging in great discussions with his professors. Following graduation in '08, Bryce plans to go to graduate school in history.

Reflecting on his Stony Brook experience thus far, Bryce is decidedly positive about the opportunities he's had to pursue multiple goals and interests:

Stony Brook has been everything that I could ask for . .It's amazing! It's been great. Everyone has been so helpful, so supportive. I love all the professors. And I couldn't imagine being on any other swim team. …You pick and choose which practices work for your schedule. As long as you get your 20 hours a week, you're good. That really makes it so that you able to pursue your academic goals. If you really want to have a great swimming experience and have a great academic experience, Stony Brook is the place. It really is. . .

Bryce shares his perspective on the challenges— both the thrills and the agonies— inherent in doing original research and scholarship in his interview (excerpted below) with Karen Kernan, URECA Director .


The Interview

Karen: Tell me about your research project. How did you first get involved?
Bryce: I took a class from Prof. Susan Hinely in the History Dept. It was Great Trials in American History. For that class, we had to do a paper on any great trial in American History and focus on a certain legal aspect of that trial. So it wasn't just picking out a trial and talking about a trial; it was picking out a specific legal theory or idea and talking about that. And I picked out US v. Nixon and it seemed a very, very interesting case to me. I was looking for something to do in the summer and I stumbled upon URECA.

Before you took this class, had you thought about doing research in history before?
I really didn't know what it was about, [or about URECA]. . . I knew that I liked history a lot. And I knew that I wanted to do something with my summer that was productive. But I had no clue what the process of doing true historical research was like.

Was it while you were working on this paper for a class that you realized you had an idea that could be expanded?
It was mainly this whole executive privilege thing. . . what a scientific term! It was something that was kind of ambiguous to me. ..[We know] the President can withhold certain information from Congress or the judiciary because of this doctrine of "executive privilege," in quotes, in big flashing lights on the portico of the White House. And I didn't really understand where it had come from. I really didn't know specifically what it was, and that really intrigued me. It wasn't used with George Washington.. . . but all of a sudden you have US v. Nixon and executive privilege is flexing its muscles. So that was what intrigued me. What I set out to do [was] explain where these ideas of executive privilege came from. . . The term wasn't coined until 1959.. .Did it start with Washington? Did it start with Jefferson? Did it start with Jackson?...I looked at where the idea of executive privilege began and how it evolved over history. I trace how executive privilege came to be from George Washington to Gerald Ford. It's a huge topic.

Tell me about your mentor. What is it like working with Professor Hinely?
She's great. Honestly, she is great! She is a brilliant lady. . . . and she helps keep me focused on what I need to do. She's helped me so much with my writing. We have an understanding that I need her to push me to the max, that everything I write needs to be scrutinized to the nth degree. . . . and she's been a huge help. She's the one that got me into doing the URECA summer program.

What was a typical research day like? How did the process work on a day to day basis this sumer?
Every day it was really tough. It was a lot of work. Because I was also swimming every day, plus doing this. Every night I would make a list of the documents I needed for the next day, what things I needed to read for the next day. To be honest, a lot of the time was trying to search out and figure out my topic, because I started with such a huge topic.

I relied a lot on interlibrary loan for Truman to Ford, especially law school journals . . . This let me put a component into my paper. . . seeing what scholars were really thinking at different time periods about executive privilege, about this withholding of information. There are different lenses with which to look at executive privilege: the congressional standpoint, which I had looked at in committee prints; a presidential standpoint, which you can look at through presidential papers. .. and then you have the scholarly standpoint, the law journals. The majority of my work was through congressional prints and law journals.

I know you used some original sources, working in the library here on campus. Did you expect to find what you found?
I was very surprised in what I couldn't find. Because you would think that Congress would write down every time that information was withheld. You think they would write it down somewhere. But they don't. In the 1970s, there was a congressional committee that wanted to find out, in the last ten years, how much information had been withheld from Congress. They submitted a questionnaire to all congressional committees, asking how many instances? Even in these committees, they couldn't remember all of the instances within the last 10 years. . . .So it was very hard finding information. A lot of my information from George Washington through President Truman was based on secondary sources. From Truman on, I was really able to use things like presidential papers, presidential press conferences, congressional hearings . . . That was a process. If there's one story about this whole thing, going into the government publication area of the library here, and trying to find these committee prints, that's where this really valuable information was . . . primary documents that I could really find and analyze. . . shelves upon shelves of infomation. You'd think it would be complete or succinct or holistic, but it's not. You go on these databases. You're looking to find out, where is this committee print from the 1960s on freedom of information in government? It could either be on microfilm, microfiche, microprint, or actually in a book somewhere.. or we just might not have it. You find out, this is the number in microfilm or microprint. You go into the stacks..You realize that Stony Brook only has this set from '53 to '62 and you need '63 ..So that was really tough. Without Elaine [Hoffman's] help, who is in charge of government documents, I would have been lost. For probably the first 5 weeks of my research, I was in there every day, just asking her, I have this number: what does it mean? Tell me, how do I get it?

Did you have any success finding things?
Definitely! I found some committee prints that were just gold. . . definitely things I found that were really, really sweet… [On the other hand], one time I called Library of Congress, talked to a guy, and said, is there any way I can get the number of refusals in the last 20 years of executive branch information to Congress. He left, went off the phone for 30 minutes, came back and said no. . . . So, it was difficult finding the information. I have things like the committee prints, and the law school journals. One of the most important resources was the Jacob Javits papers, which are in Stony Brook archives. The school has all, or the majority, of the papers of Senator Jacob Javits. He was in Congress at this time, dealing with freedom of information, and the Watergate era. A lot of his papers deal with this issue. That was really cool, and added another dimension to viewing executive privilege though the eyes of Congress. I looked at his papers, talking about executive privilege, trying to define executive privilege. Obviously, the majority of Congress felt this was a horrendous grab of power on the part of the President. But it was very interesting reading what he has to say. That lent a unique insight to my paper, though I didn't get to explore it as much as I wanted to.

Being put on hold for 30 minutes . . was that the worst of it?
To be honest, the first 7 weeks were very frustrating. . . when I was gathering all my information. Because I wanted to do something that wasn't just executive privilege from George Washington to Ford. I wanted to focus on a more specific topic that was more original. And it turned out that I really did have something original there. . . but at the time I didn't really see it. It was in thinking about it a lot, later on. . . when I went back home to California. At the time, you're so into what you're doing. You're reading and writing, reading and writing, and you have this deadline, and your head is so into it. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I really, really wanted to find some kind of original idea. I spent about 7 weeks trying to find an original idea. That was fine, because after 7 weeks, I knew a whole heck of a lot about executive privilege! But it was very frustrating. . . Even now, I think about it and it makes me tired. . . I think it came down to the fact that I was only limited in the original documents or resources that I had. And so many people have already looked at executive privilege. I was trying to find not just documents or archives that are original. The Jacob Javits papers are. . Actually, Kristin [Nyitray], who's in charge of special collections, told me she can't recollect anyone publishing anything on executive privilege in the Jacob Javits papers. So that's great. But I was looking for something that no one had every written on executive privilege. It was probably a little naïve . . .
It was a process, learning how to come up with an original idea for a paper. I came up with one that was a little bit too broad. . .Now, I know that I wont' make that mistake again. But this whole experience of doing my own research, seeking out my own topic, figuring out…what am I going to read? What kind of things do I need to read? The world is filled with all these documents out there. In this area of executive privilege, what's relevant? what isn't?

Do you have plans to present your work?
There are two parts to my project. The first part, George Washington through Truman, is very much based on secondary sources. . .But I do want to take the second part, the Truman through Ford section, and submit that to the Long Island Historical Journal. That would be really nice. Related, I'm going to be writing an article for The Patriot on executive privilege. . . .Another thing I would suggest to other undergrads doing research is to write early. I spent about 7 weeks doing research, and really wasn't sure what I wanted to tackle in my writing. Then I had 3 weeks and I wrote 100+ pages in 3 weeks. So that was a lot of writing—in three weeks, that is a lot of writing.
I'll be presenting at the History Conference [part of the URECA Celebration, in the spring]. I was able to go to the Conference last year after I had just been told that I got the URECA [award for the summer]. I went there and watched the presentations. I thought it was really, really cool. It was the first time I had ever been to any kind of history forum. . . I thought it was great that the History Department would support something like this. You had all these professors there. . . sitting , listening, asking questions, this historical dialogue . . and to see the support for undergraduates. . . that was really nice. I never experienced anything like that.

Do you understand your classes, or your professors, better after having done a substantial research project like this?
I do. . .I have a greater appreciation for the work they do. I always had great appreciation for my professors. But now, when I go to a bookstore. . . you pick up a book with a different sense of what it takes to write a book. With my classes, it gave me a different perspective on the process of researching and writing history. Also, writing is also about 10 times easier than writing papers was last year, because of this summer research experience.

I know you have a very tight schedule, balancing both your athletic and academic commitments. How do you like to spend your free time...when you do have it?
I'm a member of the Met, and I try to go every other weekend. Going to the city is great. I'll just go for the afternoon sometimes on a Sunday or Saturday afternoon. To spend the afternoon at the Met is so great. There are so many forums that we go to that we're all running around so much. Everything we're doing is so fast. The museum is one of those places where it's okay to go slow. You can just relax. . . nobody's going to run over you. Those times in the city are priceless. . .

Would you recommend this URECA experience to other students?
Oh, I've recommended it to everyone I've met! You're going to get more applicants in the social sciences this year. I would definitely recommend it. . . . It's been a great experience for me, I am leaps and bounds more prepared for future projects. And I think I have a greater idea what grad school will be like.