AHA Council Spotlight: Jacqueline Jones

To go along with our ongoing AHA Member Spotlight we have introduced an AHA Council Spotlight series featuring short interviews with our elected council officers. Like our membership, the AHA Council is composed of historians with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and stories. We hope this feature will let our membership get to know their elected officials in a different way.

Jacqueline Jones is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the current vice president, Professional Division, and has been an AHA member since 1989.

Jacqueline Jones, vice president, Professional Division

Alma mater/s: I received my BA in American studies from the University of Delaware, and my MA and PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Fields of interest: American social history, history of labor, the South.

When did you first develop an interest in history? 
I grew up in a village of 500 people in Delaware in the 1950s, and attended a segregated elementary school. At an early age I wondered why the black students who lived near my school did not attend it. I also wanted to know why our town had four tiny churches—three Methodist, one Presbyterian, two black, two white, and why our neighbors from West Virginia and Kentucky had moved to Delaware (as it turned out, the fathers had found work in nearby auto assembly plants). In other words, I was curious about the social dynamics of this small place—how various social distinctions came to be and what they meant for the people who lived there. Eventually I realized that the best way to answer those questions was to study American history.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
In graduate school I considered myself a historian of women, and now I consider myself a labor historian. I’m concerned with all types of work—paid, unpaid, free, coerced—and with all types of workplaces—in other words, the social division of labor, broadly conceived.

What projects are you working on currently? 
I just completed a manuscript on the idea of race and the way it has—or has not—shaped power relations in the United States since the founding of the colonies. Titled A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America, the book will be published this fall. The title is from David Walker’s Appeal (1829), in which he argued that white people had “dreadfully deceived” themselves about purported “racial” differences between blacks and whites.

What has been your favorite and least favorite aspect of serving on Council?
My favorite aspect has been getting to know the other Council members and working with the excellent Council staff. I am impressed by the way the organization aims to respond to the multifaceted interests of its members, in and outside the academy. At the same time, the Professional Division receives many queries from members who feel aggrieved for some reason because of conditions in their workplace, or because they believe they have observed instances of unethical or unprofessional behavior. The PD is not an investigative body, nor do we have powers of adjudication, so we cannot directly address many of these issues. So, at times it is distressing that we disappoint those members who send us complaints or queries. We can, however, continue to update the AHA’s “Statement on Standards,” and refer members to that statement.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc., that you would like to recommend to fellow AHA members? 
One of my favorite books is Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975); it has a lot to tell us about the origins of the nation, and about certain kinds of power relations that remain very much in place today.

What do you value most about the history profession?
It seems to me that the profession has avoided the bitter in-fighting over methodology that has wracked other disciplines over the last few decades. I think historians are welcoming of different kinds of methodologies and different topics of study. And I think we pretty much agree among ourselves that we know good history when we see it. Too, the profession has embraced the Digital Humanities in a way that speaks well of our ability to adapt to and take advantage of new technologies. We might study the past, but we are not bound by old-fashioned ways of doing it.

Has your time on Council changed your view of the profession? If so, how?
I now have a much better appreciation of the diversity of our members—who they are, where they are working, what their interests are—and the challenges they face. At the same time, I have seen first-hand the corrosive effects of the notion that the study of the humanities in general and history in particular is less valuable to undergraduates than the study of science, math, and engineering.  In fact, an understanding of history is a critical component of citizenship—for citizens of the United States, and citizens of the world.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?   
Over the last couple of years I have really come to appreciate the PD-sponsored interview workshop held every Friday of the annual meeting. The workshop provides an opportunity for job-seekers to meet with individual, more senior members of the profession, and to learn about successful interviewing techniques. At the end of the session the group comes together to exchange tips as well as to exchange horror stories about actual interviews that went horribly wrong.  I think this kind of practical workshop provides a great service to our members, one that many of them very much appreciate.

Other than history, what are you passionate about? 
I am a news junkie.

Any final thoughts?
I’d like to note that the good work of the Association in general and Council in particularly is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of the staff, to whom I am grateful.

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