tags: Top Young Historians
Micki McElya, 36
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History, University of Connecticut, August 2008 -
Assistant Professor of American Studies, University of Alabama, August 2003 - August 2008
Area of Research: 20th Century U.S., History of Women and Gender, History of Sexuality, Cultural History, Race and Representation, the U.S. South, Visual Culture, Memory, Feminist and Queer Theories
Education: Ph.D., Department of History, New York University, 2003
Major Publications: McElya is the author of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) winner of the 2007 Myers Center Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. She is currently working on "Flesh Trades: Capitalism, Prostitution, and Anti-Slavery Politics, 1820 to the Present."
McElya is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: "Painter of the Right: Thomas Kinkade's Political Art" in Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall, Alexis L. Boylan, ed. (Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming); "Commemorating the Color Line: The National Mammy Monument Controversy of the 1920s," in Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art and the Landscape of Southern Memory, Cynthia Mills and Pamela Simpson, eds. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003); "Trashing the Presidency: Race, Class and the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair," in Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the Public Interest, Lauren Berlant and Lisa Duggan, eds. (New York: NYU Press, 2001).
Awards: McElya is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
2007 Myers Center Outstanding Book Award for Clinging to Mammy, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights, Boston, MA;
Newberry Library Short-Term Resident Fellowship for Individual Research, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, Summer 2005;
Univeristy of Alabama: Research Advisory Council Grant, Summer 2006;
Faculty Development Grant, Spring 2005;
New York University: Prize Teaching Fellow, Department of History, 2002-03;
Warren Dean Dissertation Fellow, Dept. of History, Spring 2002;
Penfield Fellowship, Department of History, Fall 2001;
Margaret Brown Fellowship, Department of History, 2000-01 Summer Predoctoral Fellowship, Graduate School of A & S, 2000;
Summer Research Grant, Department of History, 1998.
I was a pretty awful student in college. I skipped a bunch of classes and toured through several majors, eventually declaring in History because I had taken more courses in the subject than any other and I wanted to graduate on time. In the fall of my senior year, I took the required, but dreaded, methodologies course that had a reputation for being both difficult and boring. Yet at midterm, with the jolting suddenness and impact of a body blow, I realized that I had to become a historian when we read Said's Orientalism and then the first volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality. I can recall that class and those few weeks with great clarity, for it was the moment everything— everything—changed for me. It was no longer possible to see the world in the same way, to take school and my privilege for granted, or to understand the archives, history, and history-making as anything less than deeply political. With this new understanding of power and the transformative possibilities of engaged scholarship, I was drawn not only to graduate but on to graduate school and to work on identity, political culture, and memory.
My first book began as a dissertation on the attempt by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to erect a memorial to "the faithful colored mammies of the South" in Washington, D.C., in 1923 and the furious controversy that ultimately (and thankfully) stopped it. This history is included in the book, which is a wider examination of the incredible hold the idea of the mammy has had on American culture, politics, and imaginations across the twentieth century to the present day. It explores why this particular story about slavery, the South, gender, race, and sexuality has been so durable and what this has meant for women in the U.S. and for national and local politics, what it says about historical memory and its effects, and the scope of resistance to these images within black freedom struggles.
My continued interest in the way the U.S. has, or has not, reckoned with the history of slavery and its impacts upon contemporary experience and political economies threads through my current research. My next book is a study of the rhetorics of slavery and abolition in American anti-prostitution campaigns from the antebellum period to the dawn of the twenty-first century. With a focus on politics and popular culture and organized around three historical moments—antebellum reform and abolitionism, the Progressive-Era "white slavery" panic, and current activism to end global sex trafficking—I hope this book will make important contributions to the histories of feminism, prostitution, capitalism, and racial formation.
A required course changed my life. As a teacher now, my primary aim is to disrupt tendencies toward passive learning, jar students' assumptions about their environments and historical knowledge, and to ignite their critical vision and sense of the moral urgency of studying U.S. history and culture. I believe the ability to historicize— meaning not only to contextualize and assess development over time, but also to recognize dominant narratives and the workings of power—is a necessary skill for leading a thoughtful and engaged life, in and out of the classroom.
By Micki McElya
About Micki McElya
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