Publication Date

June 11, 2020

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


Cultural, Public History, Women, Gender, & Sexuality

Rachel Cheng is the associate director of mission advancement at the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. Rachel lives in Fremont, California, and has been a member since January 2017.

Rachel Cheng

Twitter: @RachelKCheng

Alma maters: BA, University of California, Irvine, 2010; MA, University College London, 2012; PhD, University of Glasgow, 2016

Fields of interest: gender, intellectual, cultural, religious, heritage and preservation

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

I was inspired to major in history from the Humanities Core Course, taken in my first year at UC Irvine. Influenced by the excitement of my study abroad experience at the University of Hong Kong, which had a great resource center for international students, I pursued my masters at the University College London. After completing my PhD at the University of Glasgow, I moved back to California. I began my current job in Mission Advancement, the communications and development department of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, in December as a volunteer before transitioning to full-time employment.

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

As I grew up in the area, I have been able to reconnect to the local community and give back by working in a nonprofit. I enjoy the tangible impact of nonprofit work. My historical training in qualitative research and ability to explain complex information to diverse audiences regularly supports organization-wide development and outreach. I find the work challenging, and it helps me build transferable skills in fundraising, grant management, and online communications.

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

My interests have evolved a lot since graduation. They have expanded to Catholic religious history in the United States and Germany, in reflection of my employment. I am also increasingly interested in heritage and preservation issues, particularly in rapidly expanding urban environments like the San Francisco Bay Area and Hong Kong. I increasingly view the practice of oral history as essential to documenting history of these areas.

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

I love illuminated manuscripts. I currently work with illuminated manuscripts made in the 19th to 20th centuries by or primarily by women and gender nonconforming persons. There are many existing examples of these, particularly in religious archives and cultural movement collections, such as the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift’s Kinlog, which forms a central part of my PhD thesis.

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

I greatly enjoy reading the variety of blog posts on Nursing Clio:

What do you value most about the history discipline?

The history discipline has great flexibility in how we use methodology, since narrative structures are constantly shifting. The historical value of people’s individual and collective experiences cannot be communicated effectively in a singular way. I am passionate about interdisciplinary work and application of methodology, and I am particularly interested in examining cultural performance.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

Membership keeps me connected to current debates in history, both in and outside the academy, and it also has helped me expand my network since moving to the United States. I have also found the recent spotlights on gender and LGBTQA+ history to be very encouraging, and I have been very happy with the career development outreach and resources available as part of membership.

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