AHA Member Spotlight: David J. Trowbridge

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.

SAM_0214David Trowbridge is an associate professor and director of African and African American studies at Marshall University. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia, and has been a member of the AHA since 2002.

Alma mater/s: PhD, University of Kansas

Fields of interest: African American history, United States history, digital humanities

When did you first develop an interest in history?

As a young boy, I spent most of my time exploring the banks of 110 Mile Creek near our home in Burlingame, Kansas. After learning that pioneers stopped to make camp along that same muddy water, I remember looking for relics as I skipped rocks and searched for night crawlers and other slimy things. I liked imagining myself as one of those pioneers, especially after Ms. Hines shared letters from settlers with the rest of our second grade class. I suppose my love of the past began along that creek bed, as I still remember the pride and curiosity I felt upon finding that my little town had a history.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am finishing the second of two college survey textbooks and just completed an interchange with Eric Foner and other textbook authors that will appear in the March 2014 Journal of American History. I’ve learned so much over the past four years and believe the experience of writing these textbooks has helped me to become a better historian. At the same time, I can’t wait to get back to writing the two books I placed on hold. The first uses the experiences of African Americans to challenge the dominant view of Reconstruction. The second monograph is entitled Jim Crow in the Land of John Brown and details segregation and civil rights activism in the Midwest.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?

Thankfully I maintained a narrow focus in graduate school, following the advice of my mentors and churning out my dissertation rather than following each new idea down the rabbit hole. These days I am enjoying the freedom to pursue numerous projects at once. For example, I am working with a very talented group of technicians to create a smartphone application that uses GPS to connect users with the history around them. I am also advising a filmmaker and a couple other passion projects I dreamed of pursuing when I was a graduate student.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

I think the most useful book I have read in the past few months is Patricia Sullivan’s Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement. Sullivan provides a masterful synthesis of nearly a century of African American history that is both detailed and concise. As someone who owns his own microfilm reader and has lived in the NAACP papers, I was simply amazed at the way she incorporates the work of so many local chapters without derailing the central narrative.

What do you value most about the history profession?

I get to spend every day of my life with books and remarkable young people. If there is a better way to spend one’s life, I don’t know what it could possibly be.

Why did you join the AHA?

I joined for all the usual early-career reasons, but I stayed a member and pay that annual fee because I believe in the mission of the AHA. That, and I enjoy being around historians.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

This past January I was attending the AHA in New Orleans when I got a call from one of the city’s civil rights pioneers. As it turns out, she and I have a mutual friend who knew we would also become friends. She shared some great stories and made sure I kept up with her friends as they gave me an insider’s tour to the best blues joints in the city.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

My wife Whitney and our new daughter Addison. I’m glad this is a written questionnaire because I can’t seem to mention their names without getting all weepy. These two ladies are the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Any final thoughts?

I am looking forward to our next meeting in DC. I’m always happy to meet other historians, so if you see me, please say hello.

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