Professor of History, Associate Dean of Ellis College of Arts and Sciences
Angela Boswell has always had an interest in Southern history. When she was a young girl, her family vacationed in the South at areas of historical significance.
“My parents fostered that in me,” she said. “Anytime I got a great interest in some piece of history, that’s what we spent our family vacation doing. We would just get into the car and drive to whatever fascinated me.”
Even though she loved to read and learn about history in school, Boswell entered college intent on teaching English. Teaching was something she had always wanted to do.
“Teaching has always been a part of me. It helps me understand myself,” she said.
After receiving her B.A. in History and English, Boswell focused on history in graduate school and later earned her Ph.D. in history.
Boswell said she has “fallen in love” with the historical discipline. “I love that research, writing and teaching are so integrated in my field,” she said. “I can research something and teach it the next week.”
She has published numerous articles and reviews, mainly about southern women’s roles in history. Boswell has also edited a couple of volumes on the history of southern women. It’s a subject that’s still relatively untapped, she said.
“I’m not interested in the famous women. I have difficulty naming the most important ones,” Boswell said. “I’m much more interested in what regular human beings are doing, whether men or women. What were they experiencing in everyday life?”
Boswell said the South is different from the rest of the country. “Southern women had a very different experience from New England women,” she said. “Because of slavery, southern women were much less likely to challenge the prevailing social mores.
“While northern women’s rights were moving forward, southern women were still staying at home.”
Boswell believes the rest of the world identifies more with southern history than with American history in general. “American history is often taught as exceptionalism,” she said. “But southerners have actually suffered defeat. And the rest of the countries in the world have been defeated. There’s a kinship.”
In the classroom, Boswell prompts students to “put themselves in a mindset of how they would respond to a national trend. How would they react, and why?”
“One of the ways I try to get students interested in history is to make them understand that even individual actions are what shape history,” she said. “One person’s decision can make a huge impact.”
History is a balancing act for historians, Boswell said. “You cannot be absolutely 100 percent certain it’s true because you’re not there. And from the moment something happens, it is constantly being revised because our understanding and interpretation changes.
“We’re still living in the results of history and, therefore, it never passes away. Those old prejudices and old ideas are very powerful and they influence us in ways that sometimes we don’t understand.”
Degree and School:
Ph.D., Rice University
Southern women's history
Southern U.S. history
Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras
I've been at Henderson since: