Natalie Mendoza is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has been a member since 2015.
Alma maters: BA (political science), Sonoma State University, 2004; MA (history), University of California, Berkeley, 2011; PhD (history), University of California, Berkeley, 2016
Fields of interest: Mexican American/Chicana/o, US Latina/o, US civil rights, race and racism in the US, history and practice of pedagogy
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? My undergrad mentor at Sonoma State University, Steve Estes, included a note on a paper I wrote for his class in which he suggested I consider a PhD. I did not know what a PhD was, but once Steve told me, I became intrigued with the possibility of doing research and teaching in a field I cared about deeply.
Steve stressed the importance of teaching, and I decided to try high school teaching before committing to graduate school. After a couple of years, I began the program at UC Berkeley. As a graduate student I noticed the distinct challenges history teachers faced in high school and college classrooms, and I became interested in bridging what I viewed to be a gap in history education across the K–16 continuum. History and the practice of pedagogy has been a specialty of mine ever since.
What projects are you currently working on? I am currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where I am leading the History Teaching & Learning Project (HTLP), which aims to create vertical alignment within the department. This means developing student learning outcomes (SLOs) and effective teaching practices to support them, and using assessments that best measure learning. A second goal is to reconfigure the major pathway by scaffolding SLO instruction across courses in ascending levels of sophistication over several semesters. I am excited about HTLP because pedagogy is something our discipline needs to give more attention to when thinking about what it is historians do. The discipline as a whole is moving in this direction, with efforts like the AHA’s Career Diversity initiative and Tuning project. My own contribution has been to co-organize two international Teaching History Conferences at UC Berkeley that provided a space to discuss pedagogy among K–16 educators. The CU-Boulder HTLP also makes an important contribution to this shift, and I am thrilled to be a part of it!
I am also working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript. The Good Neighbor Comes Home is a study of the impact of the Good Neighbor Policy and WWII on the relationship between the federal government and Mexican Americans in the US Southwest.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?In terms of history and the practice of pedagogy, I recommend AHA members read the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in History, which is a body of research-based literature that considers the problems history teachers across the K–16 continuum face and how we might address them. David Pace’s “The Amateur in the Operating Room” in the American Historical Review is a nice introduction to SoTL that discusses why pedagogy matters to the discipline. It was written in 2004, but its message still resonates today. Anything written by Lendol Calder will also provide a great introduction to SoTL.
What do you value most about the history discipline? Historical literacy—the precise ways historians read, think, and write with primary sources in order to understand the past—includes skill sets that are useful outside of historical study, and the most important in my mind is empathy. When we suspend our own contemporary beliefs in order to make sense of the past, we are practicing the empathy that is central to historical study, but also to our present world. We are in an incredibly divisive moment in the United States, and as I teach history courses centered on the United State’s struggle with equality and inclusion, I find myself valuing the empathy skill that serves a dual purpose inside and outside the classroom.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? The AHA’s Career Diversity initiative and Tuning project are heartening for a junior scholar like myself trying to navigate a changing job market. These efforts to improve doctoral training, expand the roles historians hold in society, and strengthen history teaching are important to the future of the discipline, and I am happy to see the AHA taking the lead to address those changes.
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.