AHA Member Spotlight: Karen Marrero
Karen Marrero is an assistant professor at Wayne State University. She lives in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, and has been a member since 2010.
Alma maters: BA (English), University of Windsor; MA (English), University of Windsor; MA (history with archival studies concentration), University of Windsor; MA, MPhil, PhD (history), Yale University
Fields of Interest: early North America, Indigenous North America, northern borderlands, women and gender, memory and historical narrative
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I studied journalism at a community college and one assignment was writing an original news story, opening my eyes to the power of a writer to shape public opinion. I decided to pursue an English degree at my local university, after which I continued in the master’s program. I worked part-time during my studies and then had a series of full-time jobs at the university so I could take the MA program tuition-free. Two of those jobs impacted my life course: research grants coordinator and assistant in the university archives. I decided that I could combine what I liked about these jobs by pursuing a PhD in history.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I have the rare opportunity in academia to live and work close to extended family and friends on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit/US-Canada border. Investment in Detroit has continued at an increasingly rapid pace, which has created opportunity for some but significant challenges for others. Many of my colleagues and some of our students do work that addresses these issues and Wayne State University combines a research-intensive focus with service to a diverse student body. Wayne State’s location on an international borders facilitates my work in borderlands history and opportunities for cross-border collaboration with colleagues at the University of Windsor.
What projects are you currently working on?
My first book will be published by Michigan State University Press in spring 2020. Detroit’s Hidden Channels: The Power of French-Indigenous Families in the Eighteenth Century examines the role of French-Indigenous kinship networks in the political and economic development of Detroit, a region where Anishinaabe, Wendat, Myaamia and later French communities were established. I have started work on my next project that is in some ways a continuation of the first. I am jumping ahead to the 1830s and examining the greater Detroit area in the era of the US government’s passing of the Indian Removal Act and, on the Canadian side of the border, Upper Canada’s efforts to control where and how Indigenous people could live.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
My interest in borderland studies and on the mutable concept of citizenship has continued to evolve. Growing up on an international border and in a family with multiple national citizenships, I continue to be intrigued with how individuals construct their identities in relation to the nation.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
When I was reading the papers of Henry Bouquet, an infamous colonel in the British army, I found correspondence from 1763 relating to a Lieutenant James MacDonald stationed at Detroit. In April, his commanding officer wrote to Bouquet, requesting that MacDonald be sent to Fort Pitt because he was suffering from a “melancholy disorder” that was the result of a love affair with a local “young lady.” Before anything could be done about MacDonald, however, the Odawa leader Pontiac and a multinational Indigenous confederation organized to retain Indigenous sovereignty and attacked British installations across the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, including the one at Detroit. While the fort was under siege in July, MacDonald compiled a detailed account of what had transpired, written in English. But MacDonald also wrote a short preamble in French that referred to his prior mindset. He told Bouquet that God had opened his eyes and he saw that the “shortest episodes of madness” were the best. I could not help but wonder how MacDonald’s self-described recovery from what was likely rejection by a woman connected to his narration of Pontiac’s War. Women have been missing from histories of Pontiac’s War, but discovering this correspondence made me start looking for them. French and Indigenous women do figure in the events of 1763 and the nature of their presence in the records tells us about their roles and how they were viewed by men. You can read all about it in my upcoming book!
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I am currently reading Lisa Brooks’s Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. Online, I listen to podcasts on early American history at Ben Franklin’s World and read The Junto, which is a group blog on early American history.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
Writing history allows me to combine my love of stories, obsession (it can feel like an obsession!) with the past, and interest in how individuals make sense of their worlds. I have a type of internal dialogue with the authors of the records I am using. I promise to interpret their words carefully.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
Membership in the AHA gives me a sense of community and keeps me informed about cutting-edge scholarship and relevant social issues that the organization and historians are addressing.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
When I interviewed for my current job, it was snowing like crazy and I did not arrive until close to 10 p.m., but a friend I was staying with cooked me a delicious meal and calmed my nerves with good conversation. The interview itself was a great experience. My future colleagues were gracious, warm, and down-to-earth and we even had a few laughs.
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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