AHA Member Spotlight: Jeffrey J. Malanson

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.

Jeffrey J. Malanson is assistant professor of early American history at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where he and his wife just bought their first house) and has been an AHA member since 2009.

Jeffrey J. Malanson

Alma maters: MA and PhD, Boston College; BA and MA, Clark University

Fields of interest: early American Republic, U.S. political and diplomatic history, United States in the world

When did you first develop an interest in history? 
In the first grade I remember waiting in a barbershop and reading books on Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln; in the fifth grade I remember being enthralled listening to my teacher talk about George Washington. Back then I didn’t know I would go on to get a PhD, but I was hooked on history. Every year from fifth grade forward I planned on being a social studies teacher in whatever grade I happened to be in at the time. When I got to college I realized that I loved the immersion in history that being a historian offered—the reading, the research, the writing. Ultimately, I came back to George Washington in graduate school.

What projects are you working on currently? 
I’m putting the finishing touches on my book manuscript, Addressing America: Washington’s Farewell and the Making of National Culture, Politics, and Diplomacy, 1796–1852. The book investigates how George Washington’s presidential Farewell Address shaped American politics and foreign policy from the Federalist Era through the American tour of Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth. I am also interested in how the American people used the address to make sense of their country’s rising status and place in the world.

A bit outside the realm of history, I’m also a co-principal investigator on an e-textbook pilot that we’re running here at IPFW. We want to assess how, if at all, student learning is impacted by transitioning from paper books to e-texts. 

What is the last great book or article you have read?   
In preparation for a workshop on the Civil War that a colleague and I recently ran for Fort Wayne teachers, I decided to read James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. While I’m sure that it’s a book many/most AHA members are familiar with, I had never read the whole thing. As a historian early in my career it was a humbling experience reading such a masterfully constructed volume. Its narrative is propulsive, which is especially impressive given that the book is almost 900 pages long.

While I read it almost a year ago, I also really enjoyed Jay Sexton’s The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America. It offers a really persuasive argument about the meaning and evolution of the Monroe Doctrine as the United States emerged as a world power.

What do you value most about the history profession?  
I struggled with how to answer this question. There is a great deal that I value about being a historian and working at a university. While sometimes I am jealous of my friends and family members who can leave work at the end of the day or go on vacation for a week and turn that part of their brain off, I wouldn’t trade being a historian for anything (or at least not for anything feasible—I would love to play for the Boston Red Sox but my lack of athletic ability took that off the table years ago). I think what I value the most, though, is the relative freedom I enjoy to explore what I’m interested in and am passionate about. Whether it’s reading a new book, researching for a new project, creating a new course, integrating a new piece of technology, or a world of other opportunities, I have the ability to make my work what I want it to be. The fact that in the process I’m helping to “create new knowledge,” to reconstruct the past, and educate new students, serves to make it all the more a worthwhile pursuit.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?  
I’ve been to one AHA annual meeting and it was the year that I was on the job market. The few days that I was in San Diego in 2010 were a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, and relief, although my conference hotel room looked out on a spot my wife and I had visited a few years earlier on our honeymoon, and that made me feel strangely confident that something would work out.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?  
Movies and Boston sports.

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