TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS
98: Natasha Zaretsky, 1-19-09
Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, August 2008-Present
Area of Research: U.S. Gender and Women’s History, U.S. Intellectual and Cultural History, Contemporary Social Theory, Race, Class, and Ethnicity in America.
Education: Ph.D., Department of American Civilization, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Major Publications: Zaretsky is the author of No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980 (The University of North Carolina Press, April 2007).
Zaretsky is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“Private Suffering and Public Strife: Delia Alvarez’s War with the Nixon Administration’s POW Publicity Campaign, 1968-1973,” in Race, Nation, and Empire in American History, James T. Campbell, Matthew Guterl, and Robert Lee, eds. (University of North Carolina Press, September 2007); “In the Name of Austerity: Gender, The Middle Class Family, and the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1973-74,” in The World The Sixties Made: Culture and Politics in Recent America, Van Gosse and Richard Moser, eds. (Temple University Press, 2003);
She is currently working on two new books. The first, tentatively entitled Struggle Baby, is a collection of oral history interviews with the children of activists from the 1960s and 1970s. The second, tentatively entitled Meltdown, is a social and cultural history of the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.
Awards: Zaretsky is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Participant, Reconfigurations of American Studies Summer Institute, Dartmouth College, June 22, 2006;
George S. and Gladys W. Queen Award for Excellence in History Teaching 2003-2004;
Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award at Brown University, 2002-2003;
Nomination for Gabriel Prize, Outstanding Dissertation in American Studies, 2002-2003;
Brown University Faculty Scholars Award, 2001;
Brown University Graduate School Fellowship Stipend, 2000;
Gerald R. Ford Library Travel Grant, 1999-2000;
Bernstein Dissertation Fellowship from Brown University, 1999-2000;
J. Walter Thompson Research Fellowship at Duke University, 1999;
June Proctorship for the Department of American Civilization, 1998;
Mellon Seminar on History and Literature Fellowship, 1997;
Graduate Council Research Fellowship, 1996-1997;
June Proctorship for the Department of American Civilization, 1996;
Graduate Council Fellowship, 1995-1996;
Adlai E. Stevenson College Honors, University of California at Santa Cruz, 1992;
Honors in American Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz, 1992;
Adlai E. Stevenson College Junior Fellowship, 1991;
University of California Regents Scholarship, 1990-1992.
Assistant Professor of History, Southern Illinois University Carbondale September 2002-August 2008.
Member, Editorial Board, Thought and Action [the NEA Higher Education Journal].
Sheridan Seminar on Instructional Assessment, the Sheridan Center for the Advancement of College Teaching, 1996-98, Teaching Certificate Recipient
As a teenager, I showed no signs of one day becoming a historian. My parents had been left wing political activists and intellectuals, but I did not appear to be poised to follow in their footsteps. My time was spent watching John Hughes movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, and somberly listening to The Police and Prince on a very bulky Sony Walkman I lugged around with me everywhere. A mediocre student who graduated from high school with a B average, I struggled with my schoolwork. At the time, I lived alone in a small apartment with my mother, who battled chronic health problems. The particular challenges of my home life, combined with the everyday preoccupations of adolescent girlhood, made it hard for me to focus on my studies.
After graduating from high school in 1988, I left my native San Francisco and went to college at the University of California at Santa Cruz. San Francisco and Santa Cruz were only separated by seventy miles of Pacific coastline, but I felt as though I had entered another universe. I would sit in the library with my books in front of me, staring out the window at a canopy of Redwood trees. My dormitory room was steps away from a panoramic view of Monterey Bay. I encountered roaming deer as I walked to and from classes. Freed from the confines of a challenging home life and transplanted into what felt like an enchanted forest, I started to see myself anew–as someone who actually cared about reading, writing, and critical thinking. I blossomed academically as my instructors told me that my interpretations of books mattered and praised my writing. Leaving home for college was the turning point for me: a moment when I simultaneously broke free from my family and experienced the healing power of nature. The combination unlocked an excitement about ideas that had been buried but has been with me ever since.
Now, twenty years later, I am a scholar of contemporary American history whose work focuses on U.S. political culture, gender, and the family. The decades during which I came of age-the 1970s and 1980s- have become more than the stuff of personal memory for me. They are now also objects of scholarly inquiry. As such, they have allowed me to see my own personal past in a different light. Yes, I was a girl who was preoccupied with clothes and make up, intent on rebelling against my politically left, intellectual parents. But all along, I was also bearing witness to history. I remember listening with keen interest as my mom and dad expressed their dismay when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. And I remember in the years that followed, walking through the city streets and seeing young gay men who were dying. My work as a scholar has enabled me to see that even the most intimate dimensions of my childhood-the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and my experience living with a single mom-were rooted in larger transformations in gender roles and family life in the closing decades of the twentieth century. My study of history has enabled me to cultivate more compassion and respect for all the people-big and small–who populated my childhood and who had to navigate a changing world. History, at its best, has the power to do that.
By Natasha Zaretsky
- Following in a long tradition of keen European observers of the United States, British journalist and historian Godfrey Hodgson has noted a peculiar oscillation that has characterized American nationalism since the Vietnam War. In a world of frenetic media accounts that collapse distinctions between belief, opinion, and fact, and political campaigns that have become more and more vitriolic, public perceptions of the nation’s world position since Vietnam have swung back and forth like a pendulum, moving from “alarmism to complacency,” from delusions of invulnerability to fears of an imminent deadly threat, and from fantasies of “impotence to omnipotence and back again.” Propelling the pendulum is not only the fear of foreign danger, but the question that was asked throughout the 1970s: did the United States possess the will required to protect its national interests? “After Vietnam,” Hodgson writes, “it was not the resources that were in question, but the will to use them, and the purposes for which they would be used.” From 1968 to 1980, the family gave shape to those debates about the nation that surfaced in the wake of military defeat. Emerging at once as a locus of national injury and a repository of national will, the family was assigned the paradoxical role of both victim and perpetrator in a nationalist discourse that swung back and forth between opposite ends of the pendulum. In one moment, the nation was omnipotent and fortress-like, in the next, vulnerable and endangered. This earlier history has cast a long shadow over the present, and as of this writing, the pendulum has not stopped moving. As we continue to watch it swing back and forth, the family will always be there. — Natasha Zaretsky in “No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980”
About Natasha Zaretsky
- “[An] exemplary and richly suggestive work. . . . This is a powerful book on how the multiple traumas of the 1970s reshaped how Americans looked at themselves and the world.” — The Journal of American History
- “Provides a useful introduction to major themes of the decade. . . . An intelligent, subtle, and well- researched work on a complex and significant part of recent US history.” — CHOICE
- “Natasha Zaretsky’s book is a tour de force that marshals sociology, economics, and psychology to explain how Americans, once sure of their destiny, plunged in the 1970s into a profound pessimism not only about their place in the world, but also about the integrity of their own institutions–from the government in Washington to the home and hearth. This pessimism–combining a sense of national peril with a fear of moral and personal decline– gave rise to the Republican realignment of the 1980s and underlay the conservative revival after September 11, 2001. Anyone who wants to understand the politics of the last three decades needs to read Zaretsky’s startlingly original book.” — John B. Judis, Senior Editor, “The New Republic and author of The Folly of Empire”
- “Zaretsky draws on an imaginative range of sources, both published and archival, to discuss the changing American family during the 1970s. The book emerges as the best commentary I know about the family during this period.” — Peter N. Carroll, author of “It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: America in the 1970s”
- “No Direction Home offers a powerful and richly original analysis of American culture in the 1970s. Zaretsky’s brilliant insights into this misunderstood decade provide a compelling argument demonstrating how anxieties about national decline were expressed through anxieties about familial decline.” — Judith E. Smith, University of Massachusetts-Boston
- “Great teacher, talks fast, but keeps you interested in the topic and what she is saying…. super fun class. Couldn’t ask for a better professor!”….
“She was a great teacher. She got me interested in American History. I would definitely reccomend her, and would take another course that she taught.”
Dr. Zaretsky is a great professor. She’s helpful and fun. Her lectures are interesting and informing. I recommend her to everyone. I hope to get to take her again.” — Anonymous Students
Posted on Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 10:29 PM