AHA Member Spotlight: Lynn Weiner
Lynn Weiner is a professor emerita of history at Roosevelt University. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois, and has been a member since 1980.
Alma maters: BA, University of Michigan, 1972; MA, Boston University, 1975; PhD, Boston University, 1981
Fields of interest: US women, popular culture, public, labor, reformers, childhood, higher education
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I was planning to be a journalist, but when I took Kitty Sklar’s class on the history of US women (one of the first to be taught) at the University of Michigan my world changed. With her encouragement I went on to get a PhD in American studies at Boston University, where I learned so much from professors including Sam Bass Warner Jr., Cecelia Tichi, and Aileen Kraditor. It took me years to get a tenure-track position—along the way I worked as a researcher, adjunct history instructor, and writer for Encyclopedia Britannica (10 cents a word!). Finally I was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor at Roosevelt University—one of the places I had worked as an adjunct. I eventually became the dean of the college of arts and sciences there, a position I held for 12 years. When I decided to retire, I was asked to stay for a while as assistant to the president and university historian. I retired in 2017, but still occasionally participate in university events.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I loved working at Roosevelt—it has a unique history of social justice and educational access, and a committed and diverse community of faculty, staff, and students. I felt like my work there made a difference.
What projects are you currently working on?
I recently cycled off the board of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, and am now, with my colleagues there, completing a digital toolkit to help historic sites broaden their presentations of women’s history. I am also working on a book exploring ways that Americans experience history through competing collective memories, heritage, and public culture.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
I began with an interest in women’s labor history, the subject of my dissertation and first book, but then branched out to an eclectic series of projects researching women hoboes, the presentation of family history at Disney World, and the histories of the La Leche League, baby books, the PTA, political iconography, and more. My work is linked, if loosely, by my interest in social and cultural history, topics that some consider trivial, and the lives of ordinary Americans.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
When working on an article on the 1945 founding of Roosevelt University, I found an Eleanor Roosevelt file in the university archives. This file included letters and annotated scripts for her speeches at the university, reflecting her passion for education, racial equality, and democracy.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I just finished reading Tiya Miles’s wonderful book All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, which explores a single item—a sack given by a mid-19th-century enslaved woman to her daughter about to be sold away from her family. From that small artifact, Miles narrates a larger story of enslavement in the American South, human resilience, and social change.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
The opportunity to interpret and try to understand lives different than my own, and the way that the study of the past illuminates the present.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
The AHA has kept me centered on the importance and power of history, whether I was working as an adjunct, full-time professor, or university administrator. And the AHA has been a place to enjoy time with old friends and new colleagues, learn about new subjects and ways of interpretation, and, not least, visit the Exhibit Hall!
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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