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.
Alma mater/s: PhD, Bowling Green State University, 2004; MA, Wayne State University, 2000; BA, University of Detroit Mercy, 1997
Fields of interest: urban, Michigan, Detroit, Great Lakes, maritime, public, industrial archaeology
When did you first develop an interest in history?
When I was a little boy my family traveled throughout Michigan, particularly the Upper Peninsula. Seeing the big ships at the Soo Locks, the remains of the iron smelting town Fayette, and the lighthouses along Lake Superior developed my interest. My family bought me books, read to me, and encouraged my interest no matter how odd they thought it was at the time.
What projects are you working on currently?
I am working on a biography of Captain Alexander McDougall, a Great Lakes mariner and shipbuilder from Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. It examines the development of the Great Lakes bulk materials handling network during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Another project involves the impact of the 1933 banking crisis on homeownership, the HOLC, and the FHA in Michigan cities.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
My interests have changed primarily from the nature of my work with students, involvement with local community organizations, and then my department’s needs. This engagement has led me to expand into digital history, research topics outside of my own, and opportunities to work with students whose questions and interests area also new and challenging.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
In light of Detroit’s financial crisis I would recommend, along with Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, June Manning Thomas’ Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit (Johns Hopkins/Wayne State, 1997). Her work helps to examine the public policy component of the attempt to stem the city’s economic and social troubles in the late 20th century.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I value the ability to work with students and to help them examine difficult topics and reach conclusions on those subjects. The ability to participate in community discussions and to offer historical perspective on various issues is something that is of great satisfaction.
Why did you join the AHA?
I joined to be part of a community of scholars and teachers, and to stay on top of major issues and trends within the profession. The resources and venues provided by the AHA both in print and online are vital to that effort.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
The 2004 meeting in Washington, DC, was the site of my interview for my current position, and where I presented a paper. Sitting with my peers I mentioned my interview and I received a wave of advice and encouragement and really proved the camaraderie of the profession and the value of these meetings.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I have a belief in being engaged in the local community and I take as much of a public role as possible, serving on committees and working within my own neighborhood in Grand Rapids. My love of cities and their varied nature means that I have a responsibility to engage with my fellow citizens and to participate in the work of making the community a good place to live and work.