AHA Member Spotlight: J.M. Mancini
JoAnne Mancini is a senior lecturer at Maynooth University, in Ireland. She lives in Dublin and has been a member since 1995.
Alma maters: BA, University of Virginia, 1990; MA, Johns Hopkins University, 1992; PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 1997
Fields of interest: US and early America; intersections between US/early America and world; cultural; interactions between art and history; empire
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I am of the generation that looked into the mid-1990s US job market, saw casualization and unemployment, and jumped ship. It was challenging at first, but I have no regrets. Being a US historian outside of the US, and having been the only US historian in my department for most of my career, has given me tremendous freedom to push at the geographical, temporal, and methodological boundaries of my field. Had I not left the US, not been asked to teach world history, and not found it as convenient to do research outside of the US as within it, I doubt I could have written my latest book Art and War in the Pacific World: Making, Breaking, and Taking from Anson’s Voyage to the Philippine-American War (University of California Press, 2018).
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I live in Dublin and would now find it hard to live anywhere else. In my neighborhood, there are families who have lived on the same road for five generations, living side by side with blow-ins like me: on my little street alone, there are people from at least eight different countries as well as Ireland. We also have our own social club, where ordinary people on a night out play traditional (and not-so-traditional) music, sing, and perform. For me, as a keen amateur singer and songwriter, it is brilliant. Beyond that, I also love the way that history, literature, and thought are an inextricable part of Irish public culture: on Sundays there are not one but two competing history shows on national radio, and our president is a poet and sociologist who routinely cites academic work in his speeches.
What projects are you currently working on?
I was working on Art and War for over a decade, so am just starting a new project. At the moment, I am very interested in American music and the history of musical literacy, especially up to the advent of recorded sound. So to get started I have been reading the literature on historical American music—a literature which is not, in my experience, that well known by historians. To get myself up to speed musicologically, for the past three years I have also been taking music theory. It has been both humbling and fantastic to work through a curriculum that my 12-year-old son is also learning, just so that I can understand the scholarship I am reading.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
Absolutely. I began as a historian of the late-19th and early 20th-century United States. But since my PhD, my teaching and research has brought me back into the early modern period (and even earlier), and geographically outward, as I have become interested in global topics such as empire, war, and their interconnection with transregional art processes.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
Every day in the archives brings something fascinating! But for me, it is often material things I find most interesting—such as calling up an 18th-century map of Manila in the British Library (which I had seen reproduced, but not at scale), and seeing that someone had marked “Breach,” in English, on the city walls to visualize the 1762 invasion. To me this perfectly signaled what I was trying to do as a historian: to understand not only how images, objects, buildings, and landscapes are made, but also how they are altered (or defaced), circulated (in this case, potentially looted), and oftentimes destroyed.
Is there a book that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I have just read Richard Powers’s The Overstory, after several years teaching a class called Environment and Culture in American History. It was fascinating to see someone with Powers’s literary skill weave the history of US environmental thought into a work of monumental fiction.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
I love history because history is about everything. What other discipline can say that?
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
Even though I have lived my entire working life away from the US, it is great to remain connected to its intellectual community.
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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