Michele Brewster

After completing my master’s degree, I taught World History at a community college in southern California. I was dismayed that I could say very little about how California history fit into larger world history paradigms and global trade networks of the nineteenth-century. I felt I should be able to do better, especially given that most of us had grown up in California. Solving this conundrum became the focus of my current dissertation research.

My goals for public scholarship are the same as they were in my classroom: thinking about the global context of nineteenth-century California history, with a wider, lay audience. I seek to go beyond the “missions and gold rush” formula asking, “how should we place ourselves in a broader and more complicated history of California?”

My current project at the Laguna Art Museum allows me to parlay scholarly studies of nineteenth-century California history into the public realm of museum exhibition and K-12 outreach. Contributing to specific curatorial imperatives expands the scope of my own dissertation research. At the same time, I believe my studies benefit the Laguna Art Museum staff as they conceptualize their own vision of the upcoming exhibition: Mexico/LA: History into Art, 1821-1930.

Engaging, informing, listening to and learning from the public are the greatest and most rewarding challenges in the humanities. This bears a strong relationship to engaging individual students in our classrooms. Becoming a specialist in the intricacies of an academic field takes a certain set of skills, not to mention perseverance and individual discipline. However, forming meaningful relationships with community organizations and non-specialists is recalling the “human” in humanities in more concrete and embodied ways. I knew that through dialogue with community members, my isolated research and writing would take on a new vitality. This has proved absolutely true and I am very fortunate to take part in a sustained exploration of the public engagement with the UC Davis Humanities Institute.