Micki McElya, 36
Assistant Professor of History, University of Connecticut, August 2008 -
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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Rich V Vos - 7/14/2009
This parody of white-guilt is one of the 'up and coming' historians according to HNN? God help us, the discipline has gone downhill.
To many PhDs leading watering down the quality of practitioners leading to works by apologetic white females using their PhD to vomit up silliness like 'Clinging to Mammy'.
We once had giants of progressive history like William Appleton Williams or even Orientalism by Said. Now we have 'Clinging to Mammy' by someone who's keenly aware of her 'privilege'. Sigh.
God help our field.
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