Publication Date

April 17, 2018

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily

Jonathan Hancock is an assistant professor of history at Hendrix College. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, and has been a member since 2012. 

Jonathan Hancock is an assistant professor of history at Hendrix College.

Alma maters: BA (history and religion), Dartmouth College, 2006; MA (history), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009; PhD (history), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013

Fields of interest: 18th- and 19th-century North America, native North America, early US Republic

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I always enjoyed history classes in grade school, but I never thought about turning my interest in history into a career until I took a course with Craig Wilder (now at MIT) during my freshman year. The course—The Black Radical Tradition in America—was unlike anything I had ever encountered before. It unlocked the power of historical perspectives and introduced me to the importance of historiography and the early American roots of contemporary issues. Since then, my interests and research have ranged from that course material, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have a number of other tremendous mentors. But in teaching—and in occasionally having to remind myself why I do what I do—I think about that experience often.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? I enjoy working with earnest, hardworking students at an institution that gives me great flexibility to cultivate my teaching and research interests.

What projects are you currently working on? I am currently completing major revisions to my dissertation. The book manuscript, Worlds Convulsed: Earthquakes, Prophecy, and the Making of Nations in Early America, considers how people from the Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast sought to explain the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12 at a time when prophets, politicians, and other authorities offered competing visions of nationhood in native and Euro-American polities alike. I am also developing new projects, including a history of tribal communities in the South Carolina Low Country near Charleston and a study of American Indian constructions of gender, generational conflict, and environmental change in the Ohio Valley between the Seven Years’ War and the War of 1812.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Teaching a seminar on Ecology and American Indian History and working in Hendrix College’s Environmental Studies Program has deepened my interest in environmental history. I have also become more interested in American Indian legal history.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?At the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, I found a letter in which the famed Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa foretold the New Madrid earthquakes four years before the shaking. I tell students that it was my “Nicholas Cage in National Treasure” moment.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? I enjoy reading about soccer and food in my spare time, and both topics are great for accessible historical writing. I would recommend Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South (Amistad, 2017); Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Nation Books, rev. 2013); and David Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives: The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain (Nation Books, 2015).

What do you value most about the history discipline? I enjoy history’s demand that I engage both sides of my brain: creativity and narrative fires one side, while the need for analysis and evidence assures the other.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I find the AHA’s public advocacy for historical education vital, especially these days.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? At the 2013 meeting in New Orleans, I interviewed for jobs. The French Quarter provided a nice balance to the tenseness inside the hotel’s interview facility.

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.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association