AHA Member Spotlight: Claudio Saunt
Claudio Saunt is the Richard B. Russell Professor of History and department head at the University of Georgia. He lives in Athens, Georgia, and has been a member since 1996.
Alma maters: BA, Columbia University, 1989; MA, Duke University, 1992; PhD, Duke University, 1996
Fields of interest: early America, Native America, digital
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I grew up in San Francisco, and the history of the 13 British colonies on the East Coast always seemed remote. During graduate school, I spent a summer looking at records on the Spanish borderlands in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, and it was obvious to me after the first day that these lands were misnamed. The vast majority of the people who lived there were indigenous. I followed their stories in my dissertation and have continued to do so ever since.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? Southeastern history is so rich and varied, with African, indigenous, and European peoples playing major roles. I enjoy living in the middle of this complex, fascinating region.
What projects are you currently working on? I am completing a book on “Indian removal”—though I do not call it that, since that is the term used by the policy’s advocates—to be published by WW Norton next year. In addition, I recently received a two-year NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to finish an online, interactive, time-lapse map of the African, Native, and European populations in North America between 1500 and 1790. It will allow users to zoom in and out, to define an area in a given decade and return population counts, to see in a line graph how those populations changed over time, and to set the map in motion to watch the demographic transformation that shaped the modern world unfold.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? I think my interests have developed more than evolved. Among historians, I was an early adopter of databases and spreadsheets, back in the early 1990s; I have followed that interest in technology into the growing field of digital history. Likewise, I was interested in mapping in graduate school and even produced a hand-drawn map with a transparent overlay for my master’s thesis. Since then, I have learned how to us ArcMap and now incorporate mapping into all of my research and teach a graduate course on the subject.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? I do not think there is one. Whenever I find a source that clearly captures indigenous voices, I am amazed and fascinated.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? I just finished David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, a great introduction to the promise and (to a lesser extent) peril of population genetics.
What do you value most about the history discipline? It recognizes complexity in the world.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? The AHA supports this necessary humanistic enterprise at a time when it is too often devalued.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? In 1996, the AHA was in Atlanta, and on the last day a huge ice storm descended on the city. Many of the booksellers decided to abandon their stock, offering it to the few people who remained. I had just received my PhD and was a postdoc, so it was like Chanukah and Christmas rolled into one.
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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