AHA Member Spotlight: Suzanne Sutherland
Suzanne Sutherland is an assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University. She lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and has been a member since 2008.
Alma maters: BA, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2001; PhD, Stanford University, 2012
Fields of interest: early modern Europe, military history, scientific revolution, political history
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? After my BA, I taught English as a Second Language in Prague, Czech Republic. That experience reinforced my fascination with European history and culture and also taught me that I enjoy teaching, all of which led me to a PhD in history. Now I am fortunate enough to have a tenure-track position at a really important public university serving the region of Middle Tennessee.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? I love the community—both in Murfreesboro and at MTSU. My colleagues are doing exciting research in their fields and are extremely supportive. The city is growing very quickly and the people I meet are deeply invested in it. We are also close to Nashville, which has a fun and distinctive urban culture.
What projects are you currently working on? I am finishing a manuscript about 17th-century Italian military contractors in Austrian Habsburg service tentatively titled The Rise of the Military Entrepreneur: War, Diplomacy, and Knowledge in Habsburg Europe for which I won a 2018 NEH summer stipend. I have also been part of Stanford University’s collaborative, interdisciplinary Mapping the Republic of Letters digital humanities project. My team is completing a book on Athanasius Kircher’s correspondence network. Finally, I am co-editing and contributing to an edited volume called The Renaissance of Letters: Knowledge and Community in Italy, 1300–1650. All of these projects explore the new and important ways in which people, goods, and information traveled during the early modern era. I am fortunate to be part of another research group based at Stanford working on a project called “Early Modern Mobility: Knowledge, Communication, and Transportation, 1500–1800” that recently received funding from Stanford’s UPS Endowment Fund.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? My interests have become broader. Teaching has helped me envision my research in a much wider context and get excited about how my work relates to the big questions that matter to other scholars and students. Lately, I have become more interested in how my knowledge of early modern military contracting might shed light on modern uses of military contractors.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? Often seemingly insignificant asides in the letters I read catch my attention. One example was a mention of a miscarriage in a letter between generals. Why would a military man, ordinarily focused on battlefield and diplomatic issues in his letters, report to another military man that his wife just had a miscarriage? Of course, marriage and childbearing were political issues for powerful families and they did not maintain modern boundaries between public and private information. I enjoy taking note of what first stands out as odd, but turns out to make a lot of sense. These pieces of information also help me to understand the figures I study as many-sided: generals and diplomats, but also husbands, fathers, and friends.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? Both history and literature allow us to see the world from other people’s eyes, but great fiction writers use imagination to go deeper inside of people than historians ordinarily can. As a result, certain novels—Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, to name just a few—have taught me about past human experiences in ways that history books never could. I imagine any historian would love these books.
What do you value most about the history discipline? I have always appreciated the degree to which our discipline is grounded by evidence. At the same time, historians often work hard to humanize that evidence. We are storytellers trying to understand and explain human experience in ways that are both responsible and meaningful.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? It is vital for historians of different specializations to remain in communication about key issues impacting our discipline. We also need to remain organized and reasonably unified in order to play a role on the public stage. As I continue in my career, I grow more interested in bridging the divides between our specializations and between academic and popular audiences.
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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