Publication Date

January 30, 2020

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States



Mattie Harper DeCarlo is a senior historian at the Minnesota Historical Society. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and has been a member since 2010.


Mattie DeCarlo

Alma maters: BA (political science & women’s studies), Hamline University, 1999; MA (international affairs), New School, 2006; PhD (ethnic studies), University of California, Berkeley, 2012

Fields of interest: Native American, Great Lakes region, 19th century

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I began with a traditional academic path. After receiving my doctorate in 2012, I had a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UC Santa Cruz, and then went on to secure a tenure-track position at UC San Diego. I was always interested in returning to Minnesota and doing work that was closely connected to the Ojibwe communities I research. Accepting a position in public history at the Minnesota Historical Society was a big decision because it meant leaving academia. It felt like a risk, but one I was excited about taking. I have never regretted the decision.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I love being back in Ojibwe country because this is my homeland, as an Ojibwe woman. Regarding working at the Minnesota Historical Society, I am really happy about having lots of opportunities to work with the public. I enjoy how doing community engagement is an important part of developing content for exhibits and programming. I also love doing public talks for various community works and associations. I still enjoy engaging with the academic community, of course, but I really appreciate having as part of my job the task of communicating history to the public.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am the lead content developer for the first permanent gallery devoted to Native American history being installed at the Minnesota History Center. I am leading content development for new interpretation at one of our historic sites on the fur. This project focuses on centering Ojibwe history at the site. I am also working on my manuscript, The Bongas in the Fur Trade. It examines four generations of a family of mixed African-Ojibwe ancestry in the Great Lakes region.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

I am more interested in Dakota history and borderlands literature.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

I highly recommend Michael Witgen’s An Infinity of Nations.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

This may sound very basic, but I really value the methodology of the discipline of history. As someone working in public history, I encounter situations in which people tell stories that are not grounded in historical methods. They give the perception of sharing history with people and try to establish authority, but have not done work based on historical methods. I value the philosophical discussions we can have around interpretation, but I value the grounded reality of always coming back to the need for evidence.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

The AHA is important to me as a space where I can stay abreast of the latest research and discussions about the field of history. By being a member, I feel like I can stay updated on important discussions and learn about new scholarship, even if I am not able to always attend the meetings.

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 Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.

Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association