AHA Member Spotlight: Tara Zahra

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.

Tara Zahra is a professor of history at the University of Chicago. She currently lives in Chicago and has been a member of the AHA since 1999.

ZahraAlma mater/s: I received my PhD from the University of Michigan in 2005 and my BA from Swarthmore College in 1998.

Fields of interest: modern Europe, transnational and comparative history, migration, history of the family, nationalism

When did you first develop an interest in history?

I always loved to read historical fiction. But I developed an academic interest in history as a student at Swarthmore College, thanks to the wonderful professors I had there.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am working on a history of emigration from East Central Europe to the “West” from 1889-present. It focuses on how debates about and experiences of emigration were linked to escalating barriers to mobility in East Central Europe, and to contested ideas about the meaning of freedom, slavery, and free labor.

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

My interests have become broader geographically and thematically. My PhD dissertation and first book was on the Bohemian Lands, but I’ve done a lot more work since then on western European history (France and Germany, especially), Poland, the history of European Jews, and the history of international organizations. With my new project I am even working on US history to a certain extent, since the vast majority of emigrants from eastern Europe ended up in the US. It’s been fun to get to do research in my own home city, which was such a magnet for eastern European immigrants.

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

I definitely recommend the blog of my Swarthmore history professor, Timothy Burke:

http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/

For feminist academics: http://www.historiann.com

And for feminist venting: http://mansplained.tumblr.com/

What do you value most about the history profession?

I value almost everything about it. I feel incredibly lucky to have a career that enables me to write, teach, travel, and do research. I still get a thrill out of archives—every box of documents seems like a wrapped present that could have something great inside. I also value the chance to do work that stimulates my imagination and that is relevant (I believe) to present day political issues and problems.

Why did you join the AHA?

Honestly, so that I could read the job ads….

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

I attended an annual meeting on crutches once. That was not fun. In terms of the job market, I have mostly suppressed my AHA experiences…

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

I care a lot about politics, and I try to stay politically informed and active locally.

I also love dance: my first career goal was to become a ballet dancer. I trained seriously until I decided to go to college instead. It’s just a hobby for me now, but dancing brings me a great deal of pleasure, and I like being able to use another part of my brain.

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