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Public Historian Stephen A. Aron Named 2015 D’Angelo Chair

Friday, January 23, 2015

Stephen A. Aron, Ph.D., a prolific author and scholar of the American West who believes in “bridging the divide” between academic and public history, has been named to the 2015 Peter P. and Margaret A. D’Angelo Endowed Chair in the Humanities at St. John’s University.

Professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and chair of the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center, Aron shares his research on the origins and development of North America’s frontier communities through publications, museum exhibitions, the classroom, and television and radio.

At St. John’s this spring, Aron joins the faculty in the Department of History. He is teaching a graduate and undergraduate seminar on the history of the American West and will meet with students and faculty throughout the semester. He also will deliver a public lecture, entitled “The Wishtory and History of the American Frontier,” at the Queens and Staten Island campuses.

Aron is the fourth person to be selected for the visiting professorship. Alumni Peter P. D’Angelo ’78MBA, ’06HON—chair of the University’s Board of Trustees—and Margaret La Rosa D’Angelo ’70Ed established the chair in 2007 to enhance intellectual life on campus. The position brings a diverse range of artists, authors, and scholars to St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the institution’s oldest division. Previous D’Angelo chairs included novelist Alice McDermott (2014) and journalist/educator Peter Steinfels (2012).

“Dr. Aron embodies the concept of the public historian,” said Jeffrey Fagen, Ph.D., professor of psychology and dean of St. John’s College. “He understands the multiple roles that history, as a discipline, can play in the intellectual and cultural life beyond the academy. He is an ideal role model for our own history majors.”

“The breadth and quality of Dr. Aron’s work make him an ideal choice for the D’Angelo Chair and our department,” said Elaine Carey, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of history at St. John’s. “His experience illustrates a point we make to our history majors—there are many things you can do with your degree outside the classroom. Yes, historians teach classes, but we also work in archival collections, museums, on television and radio, and in many other fields.” Preparing students for these opportunities, she added, is the aim of St. John’s own Master of Arts in Public History degree program.

This focus, said Aron, is one reason why he was drawn to St. John’s. “Historians can no longer sit back behind university walls, speaking only with one another,” he explained. “If we want the public to be supportive of what we do, we have an obligation to make clear why what we do matters.”

The position also is “a bit of a homecoming,” according to Aron. “I spent the first 11 years of my life in Queens,” he said. “I’ve heard how diverse the borough has become over the years. Some of my writing deals with the diversity of the American West—and Los Angeles in particular. Queens and L.A. would seem to mirror each other in this regard.”