Professor McEuen finds niche in early 20th-century United States

by Sarah Allison
Staff Writer

“Keep your eyes open because you might never know what you might find.”

These are pearls of wisdom given to future historians by Dr. Melissa McEuen while situated in a cozy nook surrounded by books and articles of the past. McEuen has taught at Transylvania University for 14 years.

An accomplished historian, McEuen has written two books and published several articles in notable journals. Her first book was “Seeing America: Women Photographers Between the Wars,” and her most recent book was “Making War, Making Women: Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941-1945.”

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History lover Dr. Melissa McEuen not only teaches at Transylvania, but also holds workshops to help local elementary through high school history teachers.

Her current project is co-editing a volume of essays on Kentucky women called “Southern Women: Their Lives and Times.”

McEuen has always wanted to teach.

“Once I got to graduate school I just so loved doing research, I was just completely enthralled with research and writing and becoming a historian that I decided then that I would pursue that,” said McEuen.

A graduate of Louisiana State University, her topics of study include women in the United States from 1900 to 1950, photography and other visual representations, and the modern American South. These all entail her studies on gender, race, class and cultural studies. McEuen is a Bingham Professor for Transylvania.

As a seventh-generation Kentuckian, McEuen’s roots run deep. Inspiration from her family’s stories of the past fuels her imagination of her favorite period: the first half of the 20th century in the United States.

“I absolutely love that period! … Part of that has to do with the fact that I heard my grandmother … tell a lot of stories about the Great Depression, what it did to her and her family, her children and what great losses they suffered as result,” McEuen said.

Discovering the past is one part of teaching history that McEuen enjoys seeing her students do. The other half is gathering conclusions through research and then piecing the puzzle together.

“It’s about discovery. It’s about finding patterns in the sources, finding patterns in the evidence … (and) analyzing what’s there,” said McEuen.

McEuen admires groups of strong women. Eleanor Roosevelt is a woman who inspires her. The bust of Eleanor Roosevelt that sits on her bookshelf accentuates this fact. A group of students got this for her from the Franklin Roosevelt Library.

“The more I read about Eleanor Roosevelt, the more amazed I am about her energy level,” said McEuen. “It’s the fact that she could travel as much as she did, write as much as she did, to get as many things accomplished as she did.”

When she is not teaching classes at Transy, McEuen holds workshops to help local history teachers from the elementary level through high school with their curriculum. Besides this work she is a historical consultant for several public history initiatives.

Related stories: Begley develops 3-D technology, uncovers past, French professor promotes culturally diverse education.

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