A hearty congratulations to UConn History Ph.D. (’19) alum, Amy Sopcak-Joseph, for receiving the Zuckerman Dissertation Prize in American Studies from the McNeil Center for Early American History at the University of Pennsylvania. The Zuckerman prize is awarded to “the best dissertation connecting American history (in any period) with literature and/or art… evaluated for the seriousness and originality with which the dissertation engages relationships among history, art and/or literature, the significance of the treatment to scholarship in the field, and the overall quality of the writing.” Sopcak-Joseph’s dissertation, titled “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Periodical Publishing in the Nineteenth Century,” wonderfully explored the production, dissemination, content, and reception of an exceptionally popular antebellum American periodical called Godey’s Lady’s Book.
On February 17, Matthew Guariglia contributed to Slate Magazine with an article titled “Facial Recognition Technology is the New Rogues’ Gallery.” Using his historical training and interest in surveillance in the United States, Guariglia considers the similarities between the current debate over privacy and the previous one from the turn of the twentieth century.
Matthew received his Ph.D. from UConn in 2019 with a dissertation that “explored how U.S. colonialism, immigration, migration, and demographic shifts in New York City changed the way the state learned about urban subjects, and triggered a shift in the way police understood their jobs.” Currently, he serves as a visiting scholar in the Department of History at the University of California-Berkeley, and as a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
On January 27th, Inside Higher Ed helped recognize the first year of Contingent Magazine, an online history publication written and edited by trained historians for the public, by publishing an article titled “1 Year Down“. The feature highlights the inspiration behind the creation of Contingent Magazine, the experience of its first year, and where the magazine is heading. As described by Inside Higher Ed, “Contingent Magazine had a lot of doubters when it debuted 12 months ago. But it’s still going strong and earning a reputation as a place where historians can engage the public with the ideas that have always interested them.”
The detailed feature includes interviews with UConn History Ph.D. Erin Bartram and Ph.D. Candidate Marc Reyes. Bartram serves as Contingent‘s co-founder and Reyes an editor. According to Bartram, an “advocate for the field she loves,” but not the larger structural problems, she asked herself in 2018: “‘What can I do? I can start a magazine with my friends and edit and pay scholars for their work… I don’t necessarily think it will change things structurally, but it matters to the people who get $250 per piece.”
According to Reyes, he is most “proud of the types and topics of the articles we have run so far, including features, photo essays, and a cartoon. Most recently, in parallel with the 2019 release Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Contingent released Star Wars-inspired features, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Batuu” and “Sacred Objects,” which investigates how the medieval era inspired the Star Wars universe. In December, during the release of the Star Wars features, the website received 23,000 views. Funded entirely by its loyal readers through small donations, Contingent continually has provided enticing, intellectually provocative features and “postcards” from conferences.
To read more about Contingent Magazine and its successful first year, please click here.
Contingent Magazine recently featured Nick Hurley, UConn History B.A. ’13 and M.A. ’15, in his fascinating role as Curator at the New England Air Museum. As part of the magazine’s series on how trained historians “do history,” Nick shared what a “typical day” is like for him (hint: it varies greatly and can include inspecting donated aircraft) and shared how his family’s German origins sparked his interest in history.
Nick also shares how his historical training in Wood Hall and at the UConn Archives & Special Collections helped prepare him for this role. He says: “I knew very little about aircraft and aviation history before starting this job. What I did have, however, was a firm grasp on the fundamentals of historical research thanks to my work in graduate school, as well as an understanding of collections management, access, and care thanks to my time with UConn Archives & Special Collections. Put simply, I knew how to read, write, and speak effectively, and I could draw on my own experiences from both sides of the reference desk to help figure out what visitors (to both our research library and the museum itself) expected and wanted to see.”
On December 25, 2019, Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR) featured an interview with American Girls Podcast hosts (and UConn PhDs) Mary Mahoney and Allison Horrocks. The feature, titled “How The American Girl Dolls Inspired a Cult Podcast,” shares the history behind the podcast, the creation of the American Girl empire, and the large impact that the podcast is having on its loyal listeners. To read, or listen, to the feature, click here.
UConn History Ph.D. alums Mary Mahoney and Allison Horrocks were featured in the Hartford Courant with an article titled, “These two women developed their love of history while studying at Trinity and UConn. Now, they’re bringing it to life through a podcast about the American Girl dolls.” As the article explains, Mahoney and Horrocks’ love for history and interest in using it as a conduit to connect with others has led them to launching the “American Girls” podcast. The article shares the large interest that the podcast has garnered, especially since receiving a very complimentary NYT review, quotes from Mahoney and Horrocks, and the importance of friendship as an underlying theme for the episodes.
Although she is missed in Wood Hall, the UConn History Department is happy to share that Dr. Amy Sopcak-Joseph, who defended her dissertation in the spring of 2019, has settled well into her new home in the Global Cultures Department of Wilkes-Barre University. On September 24th, an interview with Professor Sopcak-Joseph was published in Wilkes-Barre’s The Beacon. To read about her first semester experience thus far, please click here.
Ph.D. graduates Allison Horrocks and Mary Mahoney are taking the podcast world by storm! In addition to Horrocks’ job as a park ranger and public historian with the National Parks Service, and Mahoney’s position as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at Trinity College, the UConn alums host American Girls that explores American Girl fandom, pop culture, and U.S. history. The podcast has attracted over 100,000 listeners – including NYT columnist, Margaret Lyons, who recently lauded the podcast.
To learn more about the podcast and this impressive duo’s experience thus far, check out the Q&A below!
How did this podcast come to be? Not only regarding your engagement with the American Girl world during your childhoods (which you frequently and hilariously share on the podcast), but the actual decision to make a podcast.
AH: We have wanted to do a podcast on American Girl for years. A shared interest in the “OG” American Girls was also one of the first things Mary and I discussed when we became colleagues at UConn. Starting in 2017, we workshopped ideas for this kind of show in a variety of ways before it actually debuted in 2019. Notably, Mary has the technical skills and had already created a few podcasts and digital media projects before this one. But we knew that the timing had to be right. We both needed to be done with our graduate studies, settled into our respective jobs, and able to give the amount of time this project would require each week.
MM: My grandmother bought me books for Christmas when I was growing up. I remember obsessing over each series and the magazine, but not being overly invested in the dolls or material culture of American Girl. Once I aged out of it, I promptly forgot every single plot line of these books while also maintaining it was foundational to my early interest in history. When Allison and I met at UConn, we bonded over our shared love for the series and wondered if it had a similar impact on other readers our age.
The choice to make a podcast came partly from my interest in that format. I developed a serious interest in audio production and storytelling while a student at UConn where I obtained training at the community radio station (an opportunity I highly recommend to all interested), and created and produced a podcast called Chapters. One of the great assets of podcasts are that they are so accessible – anyone can make one if they have access to an internet connection. I grew up making zines, so it seemed like a natural transition for me to seek out a way to incorporate many different voices into a form that could be easily and freely distributed. Because American Girl is a brand that self-consciously curates presentations of girlhood, this format also seemed to lend itself to our subject and has let us incorporate many voices in addition to our own.
Could you please share what was your original goal in making the podcast? Has that goal (or goals) changed with the podcast’s increasing popularity, such as a receiving a wonderful NYT review, and/or potential feedback from your audience?
AH: We do this show partially with reverence for what the series did for us as young people. Yet we also take a critical stance on the worlds created in the books. One of my goals is to share my love of history and historical studies with a wide audience.
We receive messages of some kind every single day. Truly, whenever I open up one of our social media apps, I have a new story from someone who listens. That’s the best part of doing this, other than sharing the small successes we’ve had with my best friend.
MM: I think one of our original goals was to present a conversation about books that are meaningful to us in a format that reflects our friendship and how we think about history. This is a show that asks listeners to think with history – both the history of the time periods in which the books are set and the decades (1980s, 1990s) of their original publication. The fact that we present a way of doing history that is not at all reliant on trivia, is something that has resonated with listeners who had only a passing interest in the subject.
These are books that meant something to us in childhood, and our format preserves an essential part of childhood – specifically, play. My personal goal for this show is to have fun and hang out with my best friend. I could never have predicted the response we’ve received. When we started the show, we thought we’d be recording a conversation we’d be having anyway to share with a handful of friends. Now that we’ve had over 100,000 listeners, our approach has remained the same.
How do you balance the historical details with the pop culture references while also staying on topic for the hardcore AG fans?
AH: I think the combination of pop culture and historical content is reflective of our friendship. This show is authentic to our dynamic and reflects how we really talk. If we tried too hard to plan every bit of the conversation, it would be a really different show. It’s not scripted.
MM: How we sound on air is how we sound off air, and unlike most reality shows, we are not scripted.
How would you describe this project in terms of historical categories, such as public history, digital history, material history, etc.?
AH: I consider myself squarely in the world of public history. Lots of people have reached out to us about articles or books that we mention on the show. I know that for a few people, this has been a way to learn about a topic in a deeper way that they had only been introduced to in a high school or college level history class. That’s been really rewarding to hear. Ultimately, though, this podcast is a form of entertainment.
In one of the early episodes, you mention a discussion that occurred with a professor over the historical context surrounding Felicity. Was this a UConn professor? How has your experience at UConn impacted the way you analyze these stories as well as present them on the podcast?
AH: We plead the fifth on who the professor was in that story!
We would not be able to do a lot of the work that goes into this podcast without our graduate training. UConn is also where we became friends. We had known each other before UConn (we attended the same college) but not very well.
MM: **reenacts Felicity overturning her teacup to reject tea in protest of British tea tax** “I shall spill no tea.”
Finally, which American Girl would have been most likely to declare a History Major in college?
AH: Molly, obviously.
MM: I don’t remember any of the plot lines, but am confident saying all roads lead to Molly.
Matthew Guariglia, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in May 2019, contributed another great article to The Washington Post‘s Made By History column. His article, titled “What the loss of the New York police museum means for criminal justice reform,” underscores the importance of NYPD historical records for both obtaining insights into the police force as well as highlighting silences. In particular, Guargilia emphasizes the utilization of the documents for exposing “the deep intellectual, scientific and legal justifications for criminalizing black and brown populations.”