AHA Member Spotlight: Michael Staudenmaier
Michael Staudenmaier is an assistant professor of history at Manchester University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, and has been a member since 2014.
Alma maters: BA (philosophy), Carleton College, 1995; MA (history), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013; PhD (history), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2016
Fields of Interest: 20th-century US, US Latina/o/x, comparative race and ethnicity, social movements, Caribbean and Latin America
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
As a white scholar who writes about US Latina/o/x history, the throughline in my career path has been my connection with Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. While an undergraduate I completed an internship at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS), a small alternative school founded by and for Puerto Rican youth in the city’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. I continued to work at PACHS for another decade, mostly as their accountant, which became my first career. I routinely describe my years working at the high school as the most profound educational experience of my life. When I decided to change direction entirely, leaving accounting to pursue a PhD in history, it made perfect sense to me to focus my research on the community from which I had learned so much. I maintain my connection to the community in part by serving on the Board of Directors for PACHS.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I like my students and my colleagues, and I like that Manchester is a small, decidedly non-elite school with a strong commitment to social justice and the oldest peace studies program in the US.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am completing a book manuscript on the role nationalism played in the racial formation of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community during the second half of the 20th century. I am also working with a small collective of writers on a pictorial history of Anti-Racist Action, a grassroots antifascist network from the 1990s and early 2000s. Finally, I am in the earliest stages of a book project about how Puerto Rican and Chicana/o/x radicals in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s built pan-ethnic activist alliances that helped develop contemporary ideas of Latina/o/x identity.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
I work at a teaching-centered school, so I have become less singularly focused on research and writing and more accustomed to a slower schedule in my writing. But my research interests have remained more or less the same.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
As a first-year graduate student I managed to track down a former researcher and recover 3,000 pages of field notes she helped to produce in 1966–67 in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. Together we worked to donate the material to DePaul University’s Special Collections archive, where they have been processed and will be available to the public this year. I wrote about the archives in an article published in Centro: Journal of Puerto Rican Studies in 2016, “War on Poverty, War on Division Street: Puerto Rican Chicago in the 1960s through the Lens of the Janet Nolan Collection.”
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Some of the most important public scholarship being done right now is focused on Puerto Rico, an unacknowledged colony of the United States for over 120 years. Over the past decade, Puerto Ricans have lived through multiple globally relevant experiences, including a devastating economic crisis, climate disaster in the form of Hurricane Maria, and mass resistance to political corruption through movements built primarily by queer youth of color. I strongly recommend the book Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm edited by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol Lebrón, as well as the brand new short documentary of the same name, and finally the extensive and regularly updated website Puerto Rico Syllabus. Combined, these three projects represent the very best of what politically engaged academics can produce.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
I tell my students that historians make bad prognosticators, but that the careful study of change over time can help individuals and groups make informed decisions about how to actively transform the world we live in today. In other words, history is a weapon to be wielded by movements for social change, as we have seen in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, for instance in the successful removal of so many historical monuments to enslavers.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
The AHA connects me to other historians and provides a framework for linking different sorts of historical research and teaching.
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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