Publication Date

March 10, 2016

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily



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, AHA Todayfeatures a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

Donald A. Yerxa is an editor and an emeritus professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College. He lives in Venice, Florida, and has been a member since 1987.

Yerxa_PicAlma maters: BA, Eastern Nazarene College, 1972; MA, University of Maine, 1974; PhD, University of Maine, 1982

Fields of interest: military-naval history, historiography, history of science and religion

When did you first develop an interest in history?
As a kid, I Ioved to watch WWII documentaries like Victory at Sea. Then I was blessed to have two terrific high school history teachers whose passion for history and encouragement prompted me to major in history as an undergraduate. I had caught the bug.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am editor of Fides et Historia, the peer-reviewed journal of the AHA-affiliate Conference on Faith & History. I recently finished running an interdisciplinary grants program on religion and innovation. As many as 50 to 70 books will result from this program, including a volume I edited, Religion & Innovation: Antagonists or Partners? (Bloomsbury, December 2015).

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
My graduate training and early publications were in Anglo-American naval history. But after postdoc studies at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, I developed expertise in the history of science and religion. I was an editor of Historically Speaking for 12 years, and now view myself as an unapologetic historical generalist.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I would like to suggest a few books. Currently, I am reading Alexander Watson’s Ring of Steel, a detailed examination of Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI. On a very different note, I also recommend Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion. In these Gifford Lectures Harrison provides a new scholarly take on how to understand the relationship of science and religion. Given my profile, it is probably no surprise that I am a huge fan of Brad Gregory’s work. I find his The Unintended Reformation and “The Other Confessional History,” History and Theory (December 2006) provocative and exceptionally stimulating. Lastly, based on the advance notices, I eagerly await publication of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s A Foot in the River.

What do you value most about the history profession?
Three things: the sustained, collective effort to better understand the past; the sensibility of historical consciousness that stands in stark contrast to the hubris of reductionist presentism; and the collegiality of wonderful scholar-colleagues.

Why have you continued to be a member of the AHA?
The AHA is the profession’s umbrella organization, and the AHR book review section is the best place to keep abreast of new scholarship. I have also enjoyed attending about a dozen annual meetings.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
As a graduate student, I attended my first AHA meeting in Washington in 1976. A number of prominent historians, including Timothy Smith (who improbably had also been my pastor), delivered plenary state-of-the-field addresses. It was a wonderful introduction to the profession.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Many things, including Boston professional sports teams and stamp collecting. But if I may borrow a winsome phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, I am finding myself increasingly passionate to grow in grace as I grow in age.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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