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 by AHA staff or nominated by fellow AHA members. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.
Carla R. Stephens is an assistant professor of history at Bard High School Early College in Newark, New Jersey. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has been an AHA member since 2008.
I earned my PhD in history and BA in history and political science at Temple University. I also majored in international relations during my four years at the United States Naval Academy.
Fields of interest:
African history, US diplomatic history, and world history (black Atlantic/Indian ocean). I am particularly interested in the role of myth-making (and myth-busting) in the Mozambican national liberation movement. The movement, which was not mass-based, engaged a transnational network of activists to support its anti-colonial and nationalist efforts. Significant are the role of governments in advocacy networks, specifically an analysis of the movement’s methods and effectiveness when it included members of the Kennedy administration versus its contentious relationship with the Nixon administration.
When did you first develop an interest in history?
My passion for history, specifically African history, was sparked in 8th grade when my social studies teacher, Ms. Aurelia Waters, advised me that Egypt was in Africa. The Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibition was on its much advertised world tour (1972–81) and, like millions of others in the United States, I was intrigued by the wealth, majesty, and mystery of ancient Egypt. It was difficult for me to believe that such grandeur could exist on the same continent as the savannahs and lions in Born Free and Daktari, as well as the devastation associated with the Nigerian civil war that I had seen on the TV news. Although it would take 30 years before I entered a history doctoral program, during my career in the telecommunications industry, I fed my passion reading historical texts.
What projects are you working on currently?
I am working on a book proposal based on my revised dissertation, “The People Mobilized: The Mozambican Liberation Movement and American Activism (1960-1976).” During this summer, I will be completing my revisions. In addition, my research focus will be the first president of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), Eduardo Mondlane, at Herbert Shore collection in the Oberlin College archives.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
In the two years since graduation, my interests have expanded some, but not changed significantly. Meeting and corresponding with other scholars of lusophone Africa and the Indian Ocean world has very inspirational. I have broadened my research of groups supporting Mozambican liberation from the American Committee on Africa and World/National Council of Churches to other such religious organizations as the American Friends Service, the Church World Service (as an administrator of USAID humanitarian aid), and the United Methodist offices at the United Nations. I have to this point concentrated largely on the transnational relationships between Mozambique and the United States; however, more of my future research will include diplomatic relationships among African countries and international organizations during the so-called struggle for Mozambique.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
For a broad overview of ways in which “political projects based in the ‘majority world’ shaped global history during the latter half of the 20th century,” I recommend Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives, edited by Christopher J. Lee.
What do you value most about the history profession?
There are three things that I greatly value about the history profession. First are the analytical skills that I use and teach. Historical thinking provides a comprehensive framework through which I process—synthesize, integrate, interpret, and reinterpret—information. Additionally, it is a pleasure for me to see the positive impact that historical study has on my students. I marvel at the maturation of students’ ability to think critically and express their understandings of historical events, themes, and perspectives both orally and in writing. More than just skill-building, such assignments as family oral history interviews have supported students’ increased self-knowledge and confidence. Finally, I appreciate being part of a profession that contributes so much to the great corpus of knowledge.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I love balancing my historical research, reading, and writing with a passion for science fiction. I recently had a very short story, “Culling the Herd,” published in a fledgling online zine, Metropolarity.net. Reading science texts and both reading and writing science fiction stories cleanses my palate and helps refresh my historical perspective.