AHA Member Spotlight: John M. Lawlor, Jr.

John M Lawlor Jr. is professor emeritus at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania. He lives in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, and has been a member since 1972. 

John M Lawlor Jr. is professor emeritus at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Alma mater: MA, Kutztown University, 1973, 1981

Fields of interest: Native American, urban, American Civil War, Progressive Era, African American, interdisciplinary history and literature

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? In college I worked for the Reading Railroad and as an adjunct history teacher. On the railroad, I moved into computer applications. Computing, data management, and teaching skills led me to AT&T Microelectronics as a systems engineer. After 14 years of adjunct teaching, I went full time at Reading Area Community College in 1990. From there the path intertwines history and technology.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? I live with my wife of 44 years in a peaceful rural area, surrounded by cow pastures. I worked (retired in 2015) at a place where everyone was a cherished friend and colleague.

What projects are you currently working on? “On Native Ground: Studies of Native American Histories and the Land” NEH summer institute re-energized my activities in Native American research. Central to my study is an 1876 editorial highly critical of government Native American policy. This project, presented at several venues, will be published in the April 2018 Federal History Journal. I volunteer at the National Archives and consult for the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Interests shifted toward technology. At Reading Area Community College, I fused interest in technology into my history teaching, even serving as institutional director of instructional technology for a year.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?A World War II folk art map is among the text records at the National Archives. The map recounted the experiences of the 16th Armored Division through Europe on its way to liberate Pilsen Czechoslovakia. An essay on the map won me the “I found it at the National Archives” competition. The National Archives also reprinted the essay in its 2012 Genealogy Toolkit. The 16th was my dad’s unit.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?I highly recommend David McCullough’s 1776. I re-read through some of it when I get stuck with my writing. There is a passage relating to the colonial soldiers’ reaction to a speech of George III to parliament. The speech was so abrasive, according to McCullough, that solders re-enlisted upon hearing it. The speech actually contributed to saving the army during the siege of Boston. I found a copy of the speech online at the Library of Congress and use it to challenge students to identify the most threatening passages. This exercise, among many, enables students to understand linking secondary to primary sources.

What do you value most about the history discipline? There is a thrill of discovery and the pure joy of learning something that is unexpected. But that is not enough. History enables me to facilitate opportunities for my students to experience that thrill for themselves. I extensively use primary sources in classes. For example, Captain John Parker, leader of the colonial militia at Lexington, wrote a report about the situation there and the ensuing violence in April of 1775. The report had to be notarized. Parker took the document reporting the start of the revolution to notaries who were magistrates of King George. Documents also enable me to connect national or world history to local events. History clarifies the past, challenges assumptions, and energizes further inquiry.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? As sole historian in a Social Sciences/Human Services division, AHA membership provided me a link to current issues in the discipline.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? Years ago I presented a complex work digitally. It dealt with the “Application of the Arts in the Prohibition Battle.” Dealing with the arts, the presentation deployed a variety of music, graphic, and video media. My son assisted me. Another presenter read a paper on landscape architecture but did not use any media materials to illustrate his points. Later, the other presenter told my son he did not trust technology at conferences and asked him what I would have done if the technology failed. Without batting an eye, my son told him that I would have done exactly what he did, just read the paper.


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.

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