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.
Daniel Vivian is an assistant professor and director of public history at the University of Louisville. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and has been a member since 2010.
Current school and alma maters: I have taught at the University of Louisville since 2010. I did my PhD at Johns Hopkins University and earned an MA in public history at the University of South Carolina.
Fields of interest: US South; 19th- and 20th-century US; public history, especially historic preservation
When did you first develop an interest in history?
I was very young. I don’t recall exactly, but I grew up in Virginia, so visiting places such as Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, and Appomattox made a big impression on me. Later, as I traveled more in the Southeast, I became interested in “the South” and where ideas about it came from.
What projects are you working on currently?
I have several projects underway at the moment. I’m delighted to say that I’m finishing my first book, a study of northern-owned sporting estates in the South Carolina lowcountry during the early 20th century. It began as my dissertation. The provisional title is A New Plantation World: The Leisure Plantations of the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900-1940. It’s currently under review. I also have an edited collection of essays in the works with Julia Brock, a historian at Kennesaw State University. It will examine northern-owned sporting estates in the lowcountry and the Red Hills region of Georgia and Florida. That’s the priority for the summer. I’ve also got a couple of articles in process, one of them on lowcountry writer Herbert Ravenel Sass. Another considers the challenges facing history preservation in the present-day US. The 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 is fast approaching, and I’d like to contribute something to the discussion about what it’s achieved and where we go now.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
They have become more specific. The temporal and topical foci haven’t changed, but I’ve realized that it’s impossible to do serious work in more than one or two areas at a time. Developing a viable research agenda has meant making choices. At the same time, I’ve learned how useful broad knowledge is for undergraduate lectures. Being able to relate big patterns to specific events is an important tool.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
There are so many! In terms of books, I just finished Simon Newman’s A New World of Labor: The Development of Plantation Slavery in the British Atlantic. It’s terrific. I am teaching an undergraduate course on the history of slavery in the New World for the first time this semester, so I’ve been working to stay current with the field. I’m midway through Sean Wilentz’s The Age of Reagan right now and have David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism lined up next. For blogs, I read History@Work regularly. It’s maintained by the National Council on Public History as part of their public history commons website (http://publichistorycommons.org/). Karen Cox’s Pop South also keeps me thinking (http://southinpopculture.com/).
What do you value most about the history profession?
Its diversity. Historical study allows for such far-ranging investigations, it’s hard for me to see how anyone can really grow tired of it. Few fields offer similar opportunities. As important is the range of activities that professional historians engage in. It’s stunning. If we think of what Robert Townsend has termed “the historical enterprise” instead of the traditional view of historians as academicians, the variety of positions in the field grows dramatically. I am fortunate to see many of them through my work in public history. Archivists, curators, historic preservation consultants—all are doing different kinds of historical work. All do something useful and important. We can better appreciate the value and purpose of traditional research and writing if we set it in a broader perspective and think about the many other ways there are to investigate and tell stories about the past.
Why did you join the AHA?
To become better connected professionally and to stay abreast of new scholarship.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
Honestly, no. I haven’t been to too many meetings yet, I’m sorry to say. I’ll work to change that. Hopefully I’ll get a humorous or heartening story to share soon.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Cycling! I really enjoy riding my bike. I raced pretty seriously as an amateur road cyclist when I was young, during and right after college. I rode very little when I was doing my MA at South Carolina and eventually dropped it completely. After my first year at the University of Louisville, I decided I needed to get in better shape and do something for relaxation. I’ve been back at it seriously for about two years. I don’t get to ride all the time—some weeks are just too busy—but when I can I get out most days, usually for an hour or two. During the summers I aim for 250 miles a week. It’s been great. Rediscovering something I’d once been good at but had let go of has been interesting and rewarding. I’ve lost 25 pounds, sleep better, and have a lot less stress. Consistent exercise has made me more productive academically, and I certainly feel better, physically and emotionally.
Any final thoughts?
It’s terrific to see the AHA highlighting members who are not academic stars. I like hearing about people who are doing cutting-edge research and teaching at prestigious institutions, but few historians fit into that category. The field is broad and varied. It’s important to remember that many historians do valuable work that rarely gets recognized. They deserve our attention. They’re part of what makes history a vibrant and vital field of endeavor.