AHA Member Spotlight: Dennis C. Dickerson

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, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series. The members featured in this column have been randomly selected and then contacted by AHA staff. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

Dennis C. Dickerson is the James M. Lawson Jr. Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been an AHA member since 1989. 

Alma mater/s: BA, Lincoln University (PA); MA, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis; MDiv, Vanderbilt University

Fields of interest: American & African American history; the civil rights movement; African American religious history; American labor history

When did you first develop an interest in history?

As a child, around 9 or 10 years old, I developed an interest in the U.S. presidents. I read all I could about them and mastered unusual details about their backgrounds and careers.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am working on two books: A “Brother in the Spirit of Gandhi”: William Stuart and the Religious Origins of the Civil Rights Movement and A Short History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

What is the last great book or article you have read? 

Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

I draw continuing intellectual sustenance from W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois represents for me a historian at his/her creative and literary best. Additionally, Richard Hofstadter was my other model historian when I entered graduate school. Hence, I would recommend David S. Brown’s Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.
What do you value most about the history profession?

I enjoy discourse with fellow historians about their breadth of interests and diverse methodologies; moreover, I love to learn where the “cutting edge” of research is in those fields on which I focus.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

When I served as president of the American Society of Church History, the group met concurrently, according to custom, with the AHA. I came to appreciate the role of the AHA as a venue where scholars of widely divergent interests can collectively slow the process of academic balkanization which specialties inadvertently inspire.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

I am invested deeply in the diverse interests of my four children all of whom have chosen different vocational paths. Seeing them passionate about their educational and professional choices is a source of thrill for my wife and me.

Any final thoughts?

I hope historians never lose their zeal for twin pursuits of teaching and scholarship and the fundamental understanding that they are interdependent. I learned while teaching at Williams College that teaching is indispensably enhanced by energetic scholarship.

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  1. Brandon A.A.J. Davis

    I know Dr. Dickerson and his work in the field of history. The his scholarship has provided the African Methodist Episcopal with a since of understanding and foundation as it relates to who we are as a church, the significance of individual leaders as displayed in his book about the Carry’s and his scholarship is what has propelled us in maintaining the traditions of a our church, some of which are over 200 years old.

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