AHA Member Spotlight: Kimberley Reilly

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.

ReillyKimberley Reilly is an assistant professor of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin, and has been a member since 1995.

Alma maters: BA in American civilization from Brown University; MA and PhD in history from the University of Chicago

Fields of interest: US history since 1865, women’s and gender history, legal history

When did you first develop an interest in history?

In high school, I was fortunate to have a wonderful US history teacher, Dr. Margaret Crocco, who taught history not as a narrative of facts, but as a discipline that was fundamentally engaged in interpretation, argument, and debate. She also foregrounded the experiences of women, African Americans, and other non-elites, which opened my eyes to the diverse range of stories that historians could tell.

What projects are you working on currently?

I’m working on the manuscript for my first book, which is a legal and cultural history of marriage in the late 19th- and early 20th-century US. I examine how intimacy and emotion became central to the construction of marriage not just in cultural, but also in legal terms. I focus in particular on tort law in order to understand how the rights and duties of husbands and wives were being contested and rewritten in this era, and I embed those doctrinal transformations within a broader set of cultural debates about the changing meaning of marriage.

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

I think the questions that I’m asking are the same, but the sources I use to answer them have changed, or at least broadened. I became increasingly interested in legal history as I was writing my dissertation. I’m fascinated by the way that judges and treatise writers work to fashion an internal logic or consistency to the law, and the ways in which that logic is always deeply embedded within the norms and values of its day.

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

I would recommend feministing.com. I enjoy reading it, and it’s a great source of information on current events that I can discuss in my Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course.

What do you value most about the history profession?

As a feminist, what draws me to history is its capacity to denaturalize institutions and beliefs that are often understood to be timeless and unchanging.

I also, frankly, value the fact that I have a job in the profession for which I’ve been trained. I’m acutely aware that many fellow historians of my generation have not been as fortunate.

Why did you join the AHA?

Initially because it’s the leading professional association in my discipline, and it’s useful to be a member when you are on the job market. But increasingly I value it as an advocacy group that is attempting to grapple with the enormous pressures faced by our discipline.

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

I think my most recent memories are colored by being on the job market! But even amidst those experiences, the meeting has always been a place to reconnect with friends and colleagues.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

I moved to Wisconsin about a year ago, so right now I’m passionate about getting to know the area.

Any final thoughts?

I think as a profession we are in a moment of tremendous challenges, but also opportunities. In addition to encouraging graduate students in history to develop a “Plan B,” I’d also like to see our discipline think creatively and expansively about valuing the work of our “Plan B” colleagues, whose jobs are outside the traditional university setting, or who are adjuncts in our own institutions. This might mean conference panels that are framed around different kinds of questions, or special issues of journals with less orthodox themes. Bringing a wider range of our colleagues into our disciplinary conversation can only benefit us.

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