Tuesday, November 14, 2006

UIS History Professor Shows Students the Correlations Between Past and Present

by Amber Ellis

Dr. Angela Winand, assistant professor of African American studies at UIS, comes from a family of educators. Her mother taught New Orleans elementary school students for more than 30 years. Her father emphasized the importance of history at an early age, and several of her aunts and uncles were teachers as well.

“Looking back on it now, I realize that my parents were a very deep influence on me in terms of their interests in history,” said Winand. “…I guess it was sort of natural that I would end up teaching.”

Prior to her appointment at UIS, Winand was a visiting professor at Wayne State University and finished a post-doctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University. She completed her undergraduate degree in history and political science from the University of New Orleans, and then went on to obtain her graduate and doctoral degrees from the American culture program at the University of Michigan.

“The thing that drew me (to UIS) was a sense of openness. Everybody has been really friendly and generous in their support,” said Winand. “Everybody seems genuinely enthusiastic about developing the university’s offerings, bringing more students to campus – more traditional students – and making sure that those students have a very good and rich learning experience. …And that’s exciting.”

This semester, Winand is teaching two courses. One focuses on the 20th century, and the other deals specifically with the Civil Rights Movement. The latter course takes students on a journey that begins with Emmett Till’s murder and makes stops at the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, among other things.

The goal, Winand says, is to connect the dots, showing students how these experiences affect current policy.

“I’d like (students) to leave with just a better understanding of African American people in this country – the struggles that they have made to try and be recognized as human beings…., understanding that although Jim Crow may not exist in legal form anymore, it still exists within our institutions,” said Winand. “And that we always have to work and be aware of these issues – to try to make things better for people, for all people.”

As a scholar herself, Winand is currently pursuing research into the lives of two singer/actresses: Lena Horne and Ethel Waters. Both women used their popularity to push for integration where they performed. Winand expects her final analysis to include a look at how their public careers and reputations in film affected their personal lives and political activities. Some of her findings will be included in her spring course, which will focus on black women in film history.

Winand’s research, particularly into southern history, is driven by her love of culture, history, and all things New Orleans.

“I’ve always had an interest in knowing more about New Orleans’ history and its culture, understanding the place that I grew up in – the place that created me.”

A native of the city, Winand became interested in its culture and the Creole demographic after reading short stories by Alice Dunbar-Nelson. After that, she delved into the lives of Nellie DeSpelder and Mary Church Terrell to learn more about mixed-race identity and the representation of African American women in popular culture, and in American society, as a whole.

Next year, she would like to develop a course that centers around her hometown – both before and after Hurricane Katrina. The storm has had wide-reaching affects as the city begins rebuilding and the thousands who were displaced trickle back home or begin to put down roots elsewhere.

Those who chose new homes have already begun to spread New Orleans culture – from jazz and Mardi Gras, to gumbo and red beans and rice – across the United States. But there is so much more to the storm-ravaged city and its impact on the rest of the country, says Winand.

“I hope that students will gain an understanding of the effect of different national policies on individual lives, and come away from the course with the ways in which they have an investment as American citizens in what happens to their neighbors – that they see them as people with shared interests and shared concerns that need to be addressed, discussed and understood.”

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