AHA Council Spotlight: Mary Louise Roberts

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.

Mary Louise Roberts (Lou) is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is currently a councilor in the AHA’s Professional Division and has been an AHA member since 1987.

Alma mater/s: PhD, Brown University; MA, Sarah Lawrence College; BA, Wesleyan University

Fields of interest: history of women and gender, France, Second World War

When did you first develop an interest in history?
When I was in second grade I developed an avid interest in the Norse explorer Leif Erickson. I edited a small newspaper for my street called the Riverette, and I always made sure to include at least one article about Leif Erickson.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
My research interests in gender and French history have remained consistent. However, I have become fascinated by the intersections of race and gender in the past. In addition, my work has become increasingly transnational.

What projects are you working on currently?
I just finished a book called What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II France, which will be published in May by the University of Chicago Press. It concerns relations—in particularly sexual relations—between American GIs and French women during the US military presence in France, 1944–46. I am also editing and translating a book of French memoirs called D-Day through French Eyes: Memoirs of Normandy 1944.

What do you value most about the history profession?
I most value the creative opportunities offered by the profession. In my career, I have been completely free to develop courses and to pursue research in areas which interest me. I also love going to archives and libraries abroad, in my case, in France.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
I remember the AHA in Atlanta in 1996. There was a gigantic snowstorm on the Sunday of the conference and the airport shut down. Atlanta, of all places! Graduate students could not afford the hotel, so they slept in rooms with faculty who took pity on them! It was the ultimate nightmare: the AHA meeting that never ends!

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about the fiber arts. I love to design, sew, and knit my clothes.

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  1. Paul Engel

    First off, I am a bleeding heart liberal, life long Democrat, former Union Organizer, proponent of social change, marriage equality, etc., etc., Not much offends me. I live a “roll with the punches” kind of life and believe in treating the world how I would like to be treated…. I am also a Captain in the United States Army and a professional Soldier for almost 20 years. Although my personal politics clashes with my peers, I stand by it proudly. I believe and understand that Ms. Roberts has done in-depth research to write this book and it truthfully unveils some nasty things that occured during World War II. An ugly truth to say the least…. However, I am offended and out right disgusted over the title she chose for this book. To say this is “what Soldiers do” is an outrage. Even in light of the attention sexual assault in the military has gotten in the press in recent weeks, the title of this book is inappropriate and an unwarranted slap in the face to all of us who serve with dignity and pride and who will not sacrifice their personal integrity. I call on you to have some integrity of your own and officially change the title of this book!

  2. Eric Josef Carlson

    In response to Paul Engel: In fairness to Professor Roberts, What Soldiers Do was not her working title for the book. It’s my understanding that the title was in fact chosen by the publisher. I can appreciate Engel’s concerns, but questioning the integrity of an amazing scholar is not, under the circumstances, justified.

  3. Chad Jackson

    In response to Eric Carlson: In fairness, the the name on the book is hers and if she wants or allows the disgraceful title to remain, then that Sir, undermines your claim that she is “an amazing scholar”. I, like Paul, currently serve and I am disgusted that she lumps those who serve their nation with honor with those that bring shame to our nation. Please do not deflect responsibility unto the publisher for such a poor choice of a title. I freely support her right to publish her book, but I will not heap any praise upon her “scholarly” contributions.