Publication Date

December 4, 2015

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 Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

Arias_PhotoMelanie Arias is a history faculty member and faculty lead advisor at Windward School, a 7-12, coeducational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California. She lives in North Hollywood, California, and has been a member since 2010.

Twitter handle: @20thC_Melanie

Alma maters: BA, Carleton College, 2002; PhD, UCLA, 2013

Fields of interest: 20th-century US politics and policy, race relations and social inequality, global politics and governance

When did you first develop an interest in history?

In a van packed with 16-year-olds visiting Civil War and civil rights sites in the US South as part of the experiential learning program at my high school, The Colorado Springs School. My history teacher, Aaron Schubach, gave a compelling speech at the Shiloh Battlefield Cemetery to the assembled disinterested teenagers. He implored us to think about the power of people as historical actors and agents of change. A few days later, we visited the Civil Rights District in Birmingham and experienced these sculptures by James Drake where you walk eye to eye with attack dogs and past fire hoses turned on civil rights demonstrators. I felt so compelled to understand those changes and people who created them. From that moment, my curiosities about the world just seemed to grow in that direction.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am in the second of three years of recreating my world history course to stress global connections and enduring understandings about the forces that create global change instead of emphasizing national narratives. We are in the midst of a unit on technology and history and I have been thrilled to see the strides students have made in asking meaningful, critical questions and using sources to make claims and propose answers to those questions.

My course on Comparative World Governments and Politics includes a unit on Nigeria, and so I have been led back to research I did in grad school on relationships between exchange students from Nigeria and other African nations and black Americans, including W.E.B. DuBois, during the era of the black freedom struggle and the Cold War. Members of my department have encouraged me to revise that research into an article, and I am planning to work on that over school breaks.

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

Teaching at the secondary level, I have the opportunity to learn about and teach in a variety of areas, so my interests have broadened. I am very interested in trade as a force of change and connection among societies, and in the connections between history and other disciplines. It has also become more and more important to me to center gender in the historical inquiry.

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

I would encourage historians to get on Twitter and use hashtags to find networks of colleagues as well as opportunities to share knowledge, engage in dialogue, and find resources. #twitterstorians, #charlestonsyllabus, #historyteacher, and #saturdayschool are great examples to start exploring. The account @killingstamp is an interesting example of using twitter for student assessments/projects.

What do you value most about the history profession?

History empowers me. It empowers me to ask questions that illuminate why the world, our society, and my community are as they are right now; to seek and make sense of the information that can answer those questions; and to understand, evaluate, and improve upon the answers others propose. I treasure asking a question, seeking the answers, and empowering students to do the same.

Why have you continued to be a member of the AHA?

I feel strongly about supporting the AHA’s Career Diversity in History Initiative and connecting to those in diverse careers. I love every chance I get to do that through collaborations with Karen Wilson and Muriel McClendon at UCLA. I have returned to our department every year to talk to grad students in the professional development seminar about the tremendous opportunities a career in independent schools affords. I want to be a part of empowering people to put their PhD to work for them, and I want to support the AHA’s efforts in that area by being a member.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

I have actually never been able to attend. I am planning to attend the Denver conference in 2017 and hope to see other secondary teachers and beneficiaries of the Career Diversity in History Initiative there.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

I spend a lot of time with my family. We like to go hiking and be outside. I love to read. Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, and Mary Oliver are some favorites.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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.