AHA Member Spotlight: Kent A. McConnell
Kent A. McConnell is the History Department chair at Phillips Exeter Academy. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire, and has been a member since 2000.
Alma maters: BA, Westminster College, 1989; MDiv, Yale University, 1992; ThM, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1993; PhD, University of Virginia, 2007
Fields of Interest: Civil War era, 19th-century America, social and intellectual, just war theory, physiology and violence
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
My love of history dates back to my childhood with my third-grade teacher Mrs. Pope. As a declared history major on my first day of college, I soon found a love for teaching and research. Encouraged by some wonderful mentors in graduate school, my career path has been rather linear and never strayed from education. I spent nearly 10 years teaching in higher education before coming to Phillips Exeter Academy, which has a tremendous educational environment and where I have enjoyed teaching for over a decade.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
While living in rural northern New England is not for some people, I deeply appreciate the wooded landscapes and seemingly endless stone walls of New Hampshire. Seasonal changes seem to highlight the state’s contrasting geography with its beaches and mountains.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am finishing a long-overdue manuscript on violence, religion, and the American Civil War along with some other articles. Additionally, I help to curate two digital archives that are affiliated with institutions of higher education: Killed At Gettysburg (Gettysburg Coll.) and Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project (Univ. of Virginia).
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
Although I have always been fascinated by ethical questions of the appropriation of violence, its ethical and religious arguments, and just war theory, my interests and research has evolved over time to focus much more on the physiological implications of violence on human experience.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
Recently I was able to view the pen Abraham Lincoln used to signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which was rewarding to see. But I think the most fascinating archival piece I have encountered were documents related to Salem Witch Trials. Warrants for arrest, testimonies, and execution documents related to this episode are chilling to view and hold in your hand. Working with a small group of scholars for the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, we stumbled upon new discovered documents while in a Boston archives many years ago. That was a thrill.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Even though it is not my specific field of study, I have really enjoyed using Daniel T. Rodgers’ book Age of Fracture with students in my classroom.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
Its demands for nuanced interpretation of complex subjects (i.e. people) that are rooted in the cultural assumptions of their time and geographical space.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
It is a community that enlivens me professionally and challenges me to discover new topics and question my thinking about familiar topics.
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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