SHEAR Leadership Spotlights: Meet the SHEAR Advisory Council

According to the SHEAR Constitution, the Advisory Council is charged with the responsibility of working with the President to develop and implement all phases of the Society’s efforts to fulfill its mission as a learned society. For this reason, all members of the Advisory Council, beginning with those elected in 1993, will be expected to attend all annual Council meetings, as will all ex officio members.

2019-2021

Tamara Plakins Thornton, State University of New York, Buffalo

I am a professor in the history department at the State University of New York, Buffalo, with wide-ranging interests in the histories of science, capitalism, social elites, and early American culture broadly defined. My first SHEAR experience was at the 1987 annual conference where I presented my first paper. Since then, SHEAR has been my professional home, both for the intellectual exchange it provides and for the colleagues, old and new, I meet every year at the conferences. Their work, and in some cases friendship, has become a valued part of my life. My commitment to SHEAR led me to participate in conference panels and roundtables, graduate research and biography seminars, prize and program committees, the editorial board of the Journal of the Early Republic, and now the Advisory Council. When I first encountered SHEAR, it was in a period of transition—new fields of scholarly inquiry, ever more women participants—and I hope to maintain SHEAR as a forward-looking organization that values intellectual and professional inclusivity.

Caleb McDaniel, Rice University

I’m a professor of history at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a longtime beneficiary of SHEAR’s supportive scholarly community, which many people who served on this council long before me worked so hard to build. Most recently, parts of my second book, Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America, were first read in draft form at the Second Book Workshop. I was then honored to participate as a discussant in the latest workshop last summer. As my term on the Advisory Council comes to an end this year, it is exciting to think about what the future still holds for our Society, and I am looking forward, with thanks to all the hard-working organizers, to this year’s annual meeting.

Sarah J. Purcell, Grinnell College

Sarah J. Purcell is the L.F. Parker Professor of History at Grinnell College.  Her 2002 book Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America analyzed how early Revolutionary War commemoration contributed to the creation of national identities in the United States, and her book-in-progress titled Spectacle of Grief: Public Funerals and the Politics of Civil War Memory links Civil War memory to a larger politics of public mourning.  She is the author or co-author of five other books, including The Encyclopedia of Battles in North America (2001) and  American Horizons, the first college textbook that places U.S. history in a global context. Her scholarly essays have appeared in Common-PlaceThe Public Historian, and The Journal of Church and State, and she reviews books for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other outlets.  SHEAR has been Sarah’s intellectual home since graduate school in the early 1990s, and she was keen to serve on the Advisory Council, in part, to work on connecting SHEAR to issues of good pedagogy that are dear to her as a teacher at a liberal arts college.

Jessica Lepler, University of New Hampshire

On July 22, 2005, I presented the first slice of what would become my doctoral dissertation at SHEAR in Philadelphia, PA. The next day, I sat down in the single remaining chair in the back of a packed lecture hall. As I waited for the presidential address, the senior scholars sitting on all sides of me introduced themselves, asked me about my research, and introduced me to their friends who worked on related topics. These generous scholars welcomed my graduate student-self into SHEAR, and it has been my intellectual home ever since. In the intervening decade and a half, I have attended more than a dozen SHEAR annual meetings and participated as a roundtable panelist, paper presenter, commentator, and chair. In 2014, my book The Many Panics of 1837 was a co-winner of SHEAR’s James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize. From 2015 to 2017, I served a three-year term on the SHEAR Book Prize Committee. In 2016, I co- founded (with Emily Conroy-Krutz) the SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop, a program that has become a model of providing mid-career scholars with structural support through a scholarly association. In 2018, the SHEAR membership elected me to the Advisory Council. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve SHEAR as it works to expand the support it provides to all those engaged with the history of the early American republic broadly construed. My current research extends beyond traditional definitions of the early republic as it explores the quest for an interoceanic canal through Lake Nicaragua in the 1820s.

2020-2022

Kevin Butterfield, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon

I am the Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. I came to Mount Vernon in 2018, after eight years of teaching American history and running a program for the study of the U.S. Constitution at the University of Oklahoma. I am the author of The Making of Tocqueville’s America: Law and Association in the Early United States (Chicago, 2015), which is a SHEAR book through and through. It spans the Revolutionary War through the 1840s (I didn’t quite make it to the Civil War); there are traces of four different SHEAR conference papers in its pages; and I even found a publisher, over coffee, at SHEAR 2013 in St. Louis. SHEAR has always been the most important scholarly community for my work, and I’m now proud to be able to do some work for SHEAR, by serving on the Advisory Council and discussing things like investments and hotel contracts for the organization. I live in Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and I can’t wait to see the razor wire go away.

Daniel Richter, McNeil Center for Early American Studies and University of Pennsylvania

Dan Richter is the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America (2013); Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts (2011); Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (2001); and The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (1992). He is currently working on a book tentatively titled The Lords Proprietors: Land and Power in Seventeenth-Century America. As this list suggests, while he is primarily an historian of colonial North America, his research has often taken him to the early republic. He has been involved with SHEAR about twenty-five years, and he now sits on the council as the institutional representative of the McNeil Center, where SHEAR’s offices are based. Later this year, he will be replaced in that capacity by the Center’s terrific new director, Emma Hart. But SHEAR remains one of his intellectual homes, and he looks forward to many future years of involvement.

Leslie Harris, Northwestern University

Leslie Harris is a professor of History at Northwestern University, whose work focuses on complicating the ideas we all hold about the history of African Americans in the United States; and finding ways to communicate these new ideas to the general public. This scholarly approach was evident in both her first book, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 (University of Chicago, 2003), and her participation in the New-York Historical Society’s groundbreaking exhibition Slavery in New York (2005-2006), for which she was a principal advisor as well as co-editor, with Ira Berlin, of the accompanying book. Since, Harris led and participated in a number of public history initiatives, including the two-day conference “Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies” (2011), the first international conference on the recovery of histories of slavery at higher education institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Harris is currently at work on a book on New Orleans that uses Hurricane Katrina and her family’s history as a way to interrogate the history of African Americans in the city from the nineteenth century to the present.

Ronald Angelo Johnson, Baylor University

I am Ronald Angelo Johnson (SHEARites call me Ron!). I hold the Ralph and Bessie Mae Lynn Chair of History at Baylor University. My research embraces a transnational approach to African American history in the early United States, with specializations in diplomacy, race, and religion. I wanted to serve our organization because I have found an intellectual and emotional home within the SHEAR community. From my first SHEAR conference as a graduate student, colleagues across SHEAR have welcomed, mentored, and championed my ideas and my career. I consider it a privilege to share with others the collegiality and friendship SHEARites have so freely given me. Also, as an African American male scholar, it’s important for me to encourage junior scholars and graduate students of color to study the early American republic. Their voices can help to tell new and enlarged stories of a period we all love so much!

Margot Minardi, Reed College

I am a professor of history and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, with particular interests in social movements, nationalism and transnationalism, and empire and colonialism in U.S. history. My first book, Making Slavery History, focused on historical memory within the abolitionist movement. For far too long now, I have been struggling to write a second book on nineteenth-century American pacifism (thanks to SHEAR’s second book workshop for helping me along!). I wanted to participate in the Advisory Council in order to repay the kindnesses extended to me by the organization and individual members. As someone based at a liberal arts college that prioritizes teaching, I am interested in thinking about how SHEAR can facilitate discussions across the profession about inclusive and rigorous historical pedagogy. As a transplant from the east coast to the west, I am also interested in scholarly, pedagogical, and organizational endeavors to expand the geographical reach of the field.

2021-2023

Honor Sachs, University of Colorado Boulder

I presented my first conference paper at SHEAR while I was an M.A. student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The paper I presented contained my early musings on western expansion after the American Revolution, ideas that would eventually develop into my first book, Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (Yale University Press, 2015). I have had a somewhat non-linear career path that has landed me in various contingent positions and at universities both large and small. In such varied experiences, I’ve had the enormous privilege to work with diverse students from a range of regional backgrounds, many of whom were often the first in their families to attend college. I am now settled in the West as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder, where I have become increasingly interested in exploring institutional histories that deepen and complicate our understandings of local community and memory. For many years now, I have been working on a second book about an enslaved family that sued for freedom across multiple generations by claiming Indigenous ancestry. I once thought it was going to be a “little” book, but many years ago somebody at SHEAR explained to me “there’s no such thing as a ‘little’ book.” This has turned out to be very true. You can find me musing about all kinds of things on Twitter at @drhonor.

Catherine E. Kelly, Editor of Books, Omohundro Institute and Affiliate Professor of History, William & Mary

I’m currently the Editor of Books at the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture and an Affiliate Professor of History at William & Mary. I’ve been deeply involved in SHEAR for the whole of my career. What started as an accidental conference presentation in the previous century has turned into an astonishingly generative personal and professional path: I received both the Ralph D. Gray Article Prize and the James Broussard First Book Prize. I’ve been honored to serve on the Advisory Council (2012-14) and on the Nominating and Program Committees, chairing the Program Committee for the 2006 meeting, and serving on the committee that drafted a plan for implementing policies for diversity, equity, and inclusion within SHEAR. I’ve also been deeply engaged with SHEAR’s publications, serving on the JER’s Editorial Board and, from 2014-18, as its Editor. Throughout, my goal has been to help an organization I love dearly build a tent that is bigger and more inclusive by every metric. In retrospect, the accident that put me on SHEAR’s program (talking about cattle shows, of all things!) was happy, indeed.

Elizabeth Pryor, Smith College

I am an Associate Professor of history at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. I got my B.A. from Tufts, my M.A. from Cornell and my Ph.D. from UC, Santa Barbara (Patricia Cline Cohen was my graduate advisor). I attended my first SHEAR conference in 2006 in Montreal, presenting my first paper and discovering an intellectual home. Since then, I’ve attended and presented many times and in 2016 was encouraged by program co-chair Seth Cotlar to organize TEACHING SLAVERY, a standing-room only panel that got to the heart of my deepest intellectual interest: how best to teach about the construction of race and racism in the United States without replicating or reifying the anti-Blackness of that history. Out of this question emerged my passion for the historical and pedagogical study of the n-word. My 2016 JER article, “The Etymology of [the n-word]: Resistance, Language and the Politics of Freedom in the Antebellum North” won the Ralph D Gray prize. My book Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War, published by UNC press in 2016, was released in paperback in February 2021. My TED Talk about the n-word in the classroom has over 2 million views, and Simon and Schuster will publish my book on the subject. At SHEAR, I served on the program committee for the 2017 conference and from 2016 to 2019 as a member of the JER executive board. At Smith, I have won several teaching and mentorship awards and am the college’s inaugural faculty teaching mentor for inclusive and equitable pedagogies. In this capacity, I have mentored and advocated for junior faculty of color. As a member of the SHEAR advisory council, I hope to continue mentoring junior faculty (particularly those of color) as the organization reckons with its past and looks to broaden its appeal to a diverse membership and to engage all of us who are hungry to expand what we know about, how we think about and how we teach early United States history.

Christina Snyder, Penn State University

I work at Penn State University, where I am the McCabe Greer Professor of History. I’ve written two books: Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Harvard University Press, 2010); and Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford University Press, 2017). I’m also a co-author of the textbook American Horizons: US History in a Global Context (Oxford). I first attended SHEAR in Philly in 2008. I’ve taken on a few different roles and currently serve on the Advisory Council. What I appreciate most about SHEAR—and what sets it apart from many other conferences—is its support of junior and mid-career scholars. At past conferences, I’ve enjoyed taking part in Graduate Research Seminars and the Second-Book Writers’ Workshop. Moving forward, I’d like to strengthen such programs and develop new initiatives to support graduate students from historically underrepresented groups. I live in beautiful Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, where I’m pretty okay at hiking and terrible at mountain biking.

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