AHA Today

AHA Member Spotlight: Susan Matt

Matthew Keough | Dec 18, 2015

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.

Matt_photoSusan Matt is a professor of history and chair of the history department at Weber State University. She lives in Ogden, Utah, and has been a member since 1994.

Alma maters: BA, University of Chicago, 1989; MA, Cornell University, 1992; PhD, Cornell University, 1996

Fields of interest: history of emotions, US social and cultural history, history of capitalism and consumer society

When did you first develop an interest in history?

I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in history. My early childhood was spent in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, and I passed many a happy day wandering around the Oriental Institute, looking at sarcophagi, mummies, Assyrian winged bulls, and the like. I was hooked; in fact, I thought I would become an archaeologist.

Perhaps what made me interested in more recent times was the fact that I was born to parents who were fairly old, who had me late in life. They often would talk about their childhoods, and I would hear puzzling references to a culture not my own.

What projects are you currently working on?

Two research projects: with Luke Fernandez, visiting professor in the School of Computing at Weber State, I am co-authoring a book on how technology has affected emotional life from the telegraph to Twitter. We are examining how the experience of boredom, narcissism, and loneliness has been reshaped over the last two centuries.

A longer-range project will examine capitalism and emotional life in the United States from the colonial era to the present.

Additionally, with Peter Stearns, I am co-editing a book series on the history of the emotions.

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

My interests have not really changed, but they have expanded. For instance, my dissertation focused on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, but now I am interested in the period 1800–2000. I continue to find the history of emotions very compelling; however, now I see them in a larger context. For instance, I never predicted I would be interested in the history of technology, but the emotional implications of technology are really intriguing.

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

Given current events, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is particularly relevant and illuminating.

What do you value most about the history profession?

On a personal level, I value the intellectual community that the profession provides. In terms of a larger, public value, historians play an important role as contextualizers. We put current events into a longer-range perspective, and this perspective is significant to civic life.

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

The AHR is always interesting; the AHA conferences are enriching.

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

There is not one particular anecdote, so much as a set of general impressions: the AHA meetings get better with age. They are anxiety-filled events when one is on the job market. Later on in one’s career, however, they become more fun and offer a great opportunity to discover new scholarship and to see scattered colleagues and friends.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

Running, hiking, biking, and politics.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.


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