AHA Member Spotlight: Lisa M. Fine
Lisa M. Fine is chair and professor of history at Michigan State University. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, and has been a member since 2011.
Alma maters: BS, New York School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1978; MA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1980; PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1985
Fields of interest: modern US, women and gender, modern US labor and working class, environmental
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I started college intending to go to law school, but because of a US labor history class with Gerd Korman at Cornell, I began to take more history. His class made me aware that my own immigrant, working-class background was the stuff of history. The “new” social history was starting to appear in my classes and formative was a year-long seminar on E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. I became fascinated by this scholarship and historiography so I decided to go to graduate school at Wisconsin to do labor history. While there, Gerda Lerner’s women’s history program began and this reinforced my emerging interest in women’s history. I studied social history with my wonderful advisor, Carl Kaestle. I never had any administrative aspirations, but I did participate in the creation and co-directing of a new women’s and gender studies program at MSU, the Center for Gender in Global Context. Building this program was challenging, but also enjoyable and satisfying. A few years after I left that post, I was “encouraged” to take the job as chair of history. After my stint as chair is over in a year, I look forward to returning to regular professor duties.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
Michigan is a rich site for the study of labor and working-class history. I love that I have been able to study where I live. When I was a mother of young children, this allowed me to do extensive archival research while staying close to home. My most recent monograph is about an auto plant in Lansing. Now that my children are grown, I have continued to study Michigan for the many engaging issues raised by the place and populations. I also love the large, diverse student body at MSU. MSU always attracts a large number of first-generation college students and recently, international students. I continually learn from students, from my environment and of course, my colleagues. The History Department at MSU is a collegial intellectual home.
What projects are you currently working on?
My current project, delayed because I became chair and COVID, is about the way working-class people in the industrial district of downriver Detroit connected to place and worked to improve their environment in all meanings of that word. The working class in Michigan work in highly automated, technologically advanced industries—auto, steel, chemicals, energy—and yet they are also dedicated sportsmen (mostly men) and stewards of the land. How these identities rooted working-class citizens to these regions and the implications of this connection to place is the subject of my work.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
My core interest has not changed since I was in college—the lives, identities, and consciousness of working-class people and their agency and resistance. The subject has changed from project to project. Recently, I have worked on white, working-class men and masculinity, a subject with some contemporary relevance.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
I love doing archival research so I find most of what I discover fascinating. The most shocking thing I discovered doing archival research was that in my now hometown of Lansing, Michigan, there was a 50,000 person Ku Klux Klan rally on Labor Day 1924. This discovery altered my understanding of the Lansing/mid-Michigan automotive working class and the orientation of the book I wrote about them.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
The methodologies of history, the temporal orientation and perspective, provide structure to how I understand the world. I believe I thought historically even before I was formally credentialed as an historian. It is how I make sense of the world. I value how history is contested, interpretive, and creative. I also consider the doing of history—writing, teaching, speaking—a potentially politically transformative act.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
The AHA has been important throughout my career for many things—career help, cutting-edge scholarship, and, most recently, connecting contemporary issues with the past. My department recently received the AHA’s Career Diversity Implementation Grant, which has been very helpful to many of our graduate students.
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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