Publication Date

October 21, 2022

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily

Monica J. Stenzel is a history instructor and the director of the Sustainability Center at Spokane Falls Community College. She lives in Spokane, Washington, and has been a member since 2015.

Monica J. Stenzel

Monica J. Stenzel

Alma maters: BMus, University of North Texas, 1995; MA (music history), University of Idaho, 1998; MA, (history), Eastern Washington University, 2013

Fields of interest: food, magic, sustainability

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

Interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration has always been a passion of mine. Originally, I studied orchestral conducting, and I loved the thought of working in higher education, surrounded by colleagues who were equally excited about ideas and how they intersect. After teaching about Greek mythology in music and working as a music director for a while, it felt restrictive. I went back to school to study physics, actually, and after that, decided on history as the field that offered a discipline without borders.

My graduate work discussed a witchcraft treatise by Reginald Scot, a fellow trained as an engineer and all-around pragmatist. Studying early modern witchcraft provides a unique lens for a number of issues, among them a community’s access to food, water, safety, family, and the overarching idea of continuity. This, in turn, led to the idea of studying historical models of sustainability—the same concerns humanity has had all along—and how solutions from the past should replace the consumerist and disposable practices developed nations have embraced since World War II. I have enjoyed a warm reception from environmentalists and scientists who are pleased to learn about established historic practices exclusive of petroleum and plastics, from extraction to waste management.

Because of my eclectic background, I am able to find intersections on the topic of sustainability with scientists, storytellers, artists, musicians, writers, and builders, all of whom are necessary for community to succeed. Jokingly, we refer to developing your “zombie apocalypse” or “prepper” skills in the Pacific Northwest but in the end, it returns us to Locke’s idea of a social contract, and how we need to work together to enjoy safety, harmony, and progress.

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

I love the seasons and the gorgeous landscape here, with rolling hills, rivers, and lakes. There are several national parks within a day’s drive. Nearby cities offer world class cultural and educational institutions, but Spokane remains a big “small town,” and that has benefits, too.

What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, I am developing my survey courses to focus on the idea of sustainability, as well as building ties with conservation groups in the area. I have a few writing projects concerning material culture in popular media. Lastly, I am beginning work on a project to support reforestation by using textile recycling for paper manufacturing.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

The most fascinating thing I have found was in the Washington State Archive jail registers from Spokane in the late 1800s. While few of the arrested men could read and write, the records indicated that all of the women arrested for prostitution were literate. It highlights the nature of the work that women were allowed to do in that time and space.

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

I strongly recommend Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. He’s a lovely writer and tells the twisted story of our stuff and where it heaps up.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

As stated above, I value the interdisciplinary nature of history. Historians realize—more than others, I believe—that the perceived walls between disciplines are just a convention and can be easily dismissed.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

Belonging to the AHA is important as a place of building community and identity with people who value education and ideas.

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.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association