Publication Date

May 19, 2016

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States


Environmental, Indigenous, Labor

Michael F. Magliari is a professor of history at California State University, Chico. He lives in Chico, California, and has been a member since 1990.

Magliari_photoAlma maters: PhD, University of California, Davis, 1992; MAT, University of California, Davis, 1982; BA, University of California, Davis, 1979

Fields of interest: agriculture, environment, labor, slavery and unfree labor systems, populism and socialism, American West, California, public history, historic preservation, and biography

When did you first develop an interest in history?
I have been fascinated by history since I was a preschooler. My first historical hero was my grandfather, Fortunato “Frederick” Magliari, an Italian immigrant from Calabria who came to the United States in 1920, shortly after serving in the Italian army during the First World War.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a comprehensive history of Native American slavery and unfree labor in California, Utah, and New Mexico between 1846 and 1870. I contend that the antebellum and Civil War United States was the home of two racially based “peculiar institutions,” not one: African American chattel slavery in the South, and unfree Native American labor in the West, where whites bound Indian workers under various legal guises such as indentured servitude, debt peonage, and convict leasing. To date I have published two articles on the topic, both focusing on bound Indian labor systems in California:

  1. “Free State Slavery: Bound Indian Labor and Slave Trafficking in California’s Sacramento Valley, 1850–1864,” Pacific Historical Review 81, no. 2 (May 2012): 155–92.
  1. “Free Soil, Unfree Labor: Cave Johnson Couts and the Binding of Indian Workers in California, 1850–1867,” Pacific Historical Review 73, no. 3 (August 2004): 349–89.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
My research interests have shifted significantly since graduate school. I wrote my dissertation on the Farmers’ Alliance and Populist Party in California, and my favorite subjects were almost all concentrated in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era span of 1870–1920. Since then I have become much more interested in mid-19th-century US history, spanning the three decades 1840–70. I was led in this direction by a number of related interests in agricultural history and agrarian radicalism, which combined in a biography of California pioneer John Bidwell, which I co-authored with my late friend and colleague, Michael J. Gillis. Our book, John Bidwell and California: The Life and Writings of a Pioneer, 1841–1900 (Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2003) served as the bridge between my earlier and current research efforts.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I confess that I love Cormac McCarthy’s dark and violent novel Blood Meridian, which I have assigned in my American West seminars and presented as a brilliant literary commentary on (and inversion of) American Manifest Destiny. My students either love Blood Meridian or they hate it (there never seems to be any middle ground), and it never fails to generate plenty of very lively discussion!

Why have you continued to be a member of the AHA?
I believe we academic historians have a deep obligation to join and financially support as many professional organizations, journals, and local historical societies as we can. I value my membership in the AHA primarily for my subscription to the American Historical Review, which I find indispensable for keeping abreast of the field and keeping me in touch with all the latest scholarship both within and beyond my personal fields of concentration.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Politics (do not get me started!), reading (can not imagine life without books, journals, magazines, and newspapers), writing, travel, hiking, camping, poetry, and music from my teens and twenties.

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.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association