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.
Douglas Kanter is an associate professor of history at Florida Atlantic University. He lives in Delray Beach, Florida, and has been an AHA member since 2001.
Alma Mater: University of Chicago (PhD, 2006).
Fields of Interest: modern British and Irish history; the British empire
When did you first develop an interest in history?
I became interested in history as a freshman in high school because of an exceptional teacher, Frank Mattucci. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, my rather unfocused enthusiasm was given definition and direction thanks to the mentoring of Bill Heyck, who encouraged my interest in Irish nationalism and Anglo-Irish relations. At the University of Chicago, the late Emmet Larkin taught me what it meant to be a professional historian: to this day, I try to apply his very high standards to my own teaching and scholarship. All three had an enormous impact on my life and career, and their example serves to remind me of the significant influence that historians, as educators, can have on the lives of their students.
What projects are you working on currently?
My main project right now is a book on the Irish policy of the Victorian Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. It is a sequel to my first monograph, The Making of British Unionism, 1740–1848, which explained how British politicians and opinion-makers came to support a union with Ireland, and why they decided to maintain the union after it attracted significant hostility from Irish nationalists. In the late 19th century, Gladstone reimagined the Anglo-Irish relationship, and unsuccessfully sought to renegotiate its terms, by offering Ireland “Home Rule” (a forerunner of contemporary devolution in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). He was, in essence, attempting to undo the constitutional settlement that was effected at the end of the 18th century, which was the subject of my earlier book. I’m also putting the finishing touches on two articles, concerning the politics of Irish taxation and Irish electoral politics in the nineteenth century, which are respectively forthcoming in the English Historical Review and Parliamentary History.
What is the last great book or article you have read?
Wow, this is such a tough question! To me, a great work of history has to be both exceptionally well written and exert a transformative impact on the field. Needless to say, there aren’t too many of those published! Many of the books I consider to be great, therefore, are quite old: for instance, George Dangerfield’s Strange Death of Liberal England, or (of a somewhat more recent vintage) Oliver MacDonagh’s biography of Daniel O’Connell. My favorite contemporary historians include Colin Barr, Michael de Nie, Jason Knirck, Tim McMahon, and Paul Townend, whose books and articles have taught me a tremendous amount about the history of modern Ireland.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
For those interested in an excellent and up-to-date history of the relationship between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, I would suggest Alvin Jackson’s The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707–2007. Since Gladstone is much on my mind these days, I would also recommend David Bebbington’s biography, William Ewart Gladstone: Faith and Politics in Victorian Britain, which is perhaps the best of the several short introductions to his life.
What do you value most about the history profession?
The opportunity to spend my time reading, writing, and thinking about important things is a tremendous privilege.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
My three children, Willa, Sadie, and Desmond; and my wife, Faye!
Any final thoughts?
In our present age of austerity, when the humanities are under tremendous funding pressure and the language of the market has assumed a hegemonic status in public discourse, I think it is important for historians to continue making a case for our discipline specifically, and for the life of the mind more generally. To think historically requires empathy, an appreciation for diversity, and an understanding of complexity—habits of mind whose value is perhaps not easy to measure in economic terms, but which are crucial for individuals in our own multicultural, pluralistic, and rapidly changing society to develop.