Publication Date

May 1, 2019

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States


Asian American and Pacific Islander, Migration, Immigration, & Diaspora, Urban

Barbara M. PosadasBarbara M. Posadas is CLAS Distinguished Professor of History emerita at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She lives in DeKalb, Illinois, and Morris, Minnesota, where her husband, AHA member Roland L. Guyotte, has taught since 1969. She has been a member since 1985.

Alma maters: BA, DePaul University, 1967; MA, Northwestern University, 1971; PhD, Northwestern University, 1976

Fields of interest: US immigration and ethnic, social, urban, Chicago, women, Asian American

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? Two years before completing my doctorate, I joined the NIU history faculty as an instructor and retired 41 years later. During my career, I also spent time at the Asia Center of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, on a Senior Fulbright Research Award; at the Asian American Studies Center of the Institute for American Cultures at UCLA on a research grant; and as a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota in history on the Morris campus and in American studies on the Twin Cities campus.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? Having been born and raised in Chicago by my “unintentional immigrant” Filipino father and my Polish American mother, I lived there until NIU hired me, I have loved being in DeKalb, which is only 70 miles west and within driving range of the Chicago Historical Society and the Newberry Library, whose collections have been essential to my research. In addition, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Art Institute, and the Lyric Opera have been important in my life. By contrast, DeKalb remains embedded in its rural surroundings and offers a less frenetic lifestyle that I appreciate. At NIU, I was able to work with undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students, six of whom completed the doctorate under my direction.

What projects are you currently working on? In retirement, I occasionally review manuscripts and write book reviews—and look at the boxes of research intended for my “next” book.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Part of the “new” urban history, my Northwestern PhD dissertation looked at the 19th-century expansion of Chicago’s northwest side, but at NIU, encouraged by senior colleagues including Alfred Young and Donn Hart, my research focus changed completely. Since the early 1980s, my scholarly publications have dealt almost exclusively with the history of Filipino migration to the United States. I focused first on young Filipino men arriving in Chicago during the first third of the 20th century, but in the late 1990s, I wrote a book about post-1965 Filipino Americans.

Although I have served on various committees in the Organization of American Historians over the years, including the 2002 Merle H. Curti Social History Award Committee, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and the Illinois State Historical Society have been the organizations most important in my professional life. I joined the editorial board of the IEHS’s Journal of American Ethnic History in 1997, participated in various committees, and served as president-elect and president from 2006–12 when the IEHS established its financial independence. As an active member of the Illinois State Historical Society in the 1980s and 1990s, I founded the Minority Heritage Committee, became a member of the editorial board of the society’s journal in 1982, and served as the society’s president from 1999–2001. In April 2008, I received the Asian American Studies Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in April 2019, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society honored me with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? While researching my 1982 Labor History article, “The Hierarchy of Color,” at the Newberry, I discovered the incredibly detailed disciplinary files that the Pullman Company kept on its African American and Filipino employees.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? Set in New York City in the early 1900s, Hester Street (1975) focuses on the tension between Gitl, an observant Jewish woman who arrives with her young son to join her husband Jake, a sweatshop worker who believes himself fully Americanized. Filmed in black and white, the street scenes nonetheless offer a vivid portrait of NYC tenement life. The movie is based on an 1896 novella by Abraham Cahan.

What do you value most about the history discipline? History enables me to study the intricacies of the past and put the present into perspective.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? As a retiree, I especially enjoy having more time to read American Historical Review articles in fields other than my own!

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Dailyfeatures a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association