AHA Member Spotlight: John Louis Recchiuti

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 nominated by fellow AHA members or randomly selected by AHA Staff. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

John Louis Recchiuti is a professor of history and the Saffell Endowed Chair in Humanities at the University of Mount Union. He lives in Alliance, Ohio, and has been an AHA member since 1998.

John Recchiuti, and his family: Amy, Jack, Elizabeth, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in November 2012.

Current school or alma mater/s: Columbia University (MPhil, 1985; PhD, 1992)

Fields of interest: American history, intellectual history, political history, social movements, public history, economic history, religious history, Progressive Era, urban history, history of teaching and curriculum, and more.

When did you first develop an interest in history? 
My sense that history, as a professional path, was something I might like to take up was first inspired by Henry Abelove at Wesleyan University. Henry was an inspiring teacher, and in his European Intellectual History course I learned that the past can be enormously useful in understanding oneself and the world, that a close reading of a text is a rewarding art.

What projects are you working on currently?
A few things at present, among them a short piece on Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch’s life, under contract with Oxford University Press.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Goodness, yes. In my first year of graduate school I was interested principally in labor and social history and studied at E.P. Thompson’s Centre for the Study of Social History at Warwick University in Coventry, England. Subsequently, at Columbia University my interests broadened. Columbia’s History Department is known for its focus on political, intellectual/cultural, and social movements. Eric Foner, a friend to this day, was a terrific mentor. Teaching for six years in Columbia’s Great Books core curriculum—from Plato to NATO, students have nicknamed—was a great pleasure. I learned astonishing amounts from Darren Staloff, Michael Sugrue, Peter Field, and others. I was happy when Tom Rollins, founder of the Teaching Company, took fire with my idea that Columbia’s core curriculum could be made into an audio and video series, and the success of that series, “Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition,” remains a point of personal satisfaction. In 2009 I had a wonderful time as visiting professor at the University of Michigan. The graduate students and undergraduates with whom I worked were a bright and dedicated group. To a person, the faculty and staff at Michigan were welcoming and kind. I enjoyed teaching my American Intellectual History and Religion in America courses. Bob Bain’s invitation to participate in Michigan’s faculty-graduate student May Seminar on World History rounded out a terrific time in Ann Arbor.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
If you haven’t seen these videos (they are fairly popular, so you may already have seen them), I think you’ll enjoy:

What do you value most about the history profession?
The community of scholarship, the time to write, the frisson of joy I feel every time I enter a university classroom.
The Catholicism of my youth forged a strong frame of belief that good works matter in this world. The Enlightenment of my undergraduate and graduate years was animated by a desire to understand the world and improve it. It’s not by coincidence that my book Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive Era Reform in New York City (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) is about the ways in which a group of young Americans set out to address the pressing issues of their day—from issues of poverty and child labor, to women’s and labor rights, civil rights, and municipal reform—from the vantage of a university setting.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
My favorite AHA annual meeting moment is Eric Foner’s 2000 AHA presidential address, “American Freedom in a Global Age.”

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
My wife, Amy, and my children, Jack and Elizabeth. I’m passionate about understanding the present, and working to make things better globally.

Any final thoughts?
Study of the past in the context of engagement in the present is a life worth living. Study the history of war, disease, or famine; use that knowledge to strive to make the world a better place.

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