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Scholar Charissa Threat Crafts Inclusive History

June 2018

Spelman Faculty Charissa ThreatAn old  gospel  hymn admonishes  the  faithful  to  “study  war  no  more.” Charissa Threat, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history at  Spelman  College, would  respectfully counter that we  should  not only study war and conflict; we should learn from it.

Dr. Threat, who grew up in and around military families in Southern California, has spent much of  her career studying the social and cultural history of  the United States in the 20th century, emphasizing race, gender, civil rights, and social justice, and how they intersect with the nation’s military history.

While military history has long been viewed as the history of  battles and strategy, Dr. Threat counts herself  as part of  a growing group of scholars who focus on broadening military history to include scholarship that is informed by the intersections of civil-military relations and race, gender and conflict. Her research has often focused on the challenges faced by women, African Americans, and all those whose military contributions have been ignored, forgotten, or undermined.

Nursing Civil Rights: Gender, Race, and the U.S. Army Nurse Corps

Charissa Threat's Nursing Civil Rights BookDr. Threat’s first book, “Nursing Civil Rights: Gender, Race, and the U.S. Army Nurse Corps” (University of Illinois Press, 2015) examined the intensely biased treatment faced by African-American women and white male nurses.

The book has been awarded the 2017 Lavinia L. Dock Book Award from the American Association for the History of  Nursing for outstanding research and writing. Her unique excavation of the problems of  white men working in a field the military had prescribed for women is especially revelatory, as is her straight-line association between the discriminatory practices of  the Army and the nation’s larger patterns of  racial and gender bias.

In its review of  the book, the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society noted Dr.
Threat’s highly original approach to her topic, expressing a view shared by many critics:

“By combining narratives of African-American women and white men and analyzing the Army Nurse Corps’ policies regarding both race and gender, Dr. Threat links together gender and racial equality to provide a new framework in which to understand the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.”

Gender, Race, and the Politics of  Nursing During World War II

Dr. Threat’s insight and originality are also evident in her articles and book chapters, including “The Hands That Might Save Them: Gender, Race, and the Politics
of  Nursing During World War II” in the journal Gender and History (2012), “Does
the Sex of the Practitioner Matter?: Nursing, Civil Rights and Discrimination in the
Army Nurse Corps, 1947–1955” in “Integrating the U.S. Military: Race, Gender
and Sexual Orientation Since World War II” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017)
and “Patriotism is Neither Masculine nor Feminine: Gender and the Work of  War”
in “The Routledge Handbook of  Gender, War and the U.S. Military” (Routledge
Press, 2017).

Dr. Threat is currently at work on two new projects. The first is an article-length
manuscript focused on community organizing and social justice activities in the post-
World War II period with an interest in examining how national advocacy groups
worked with each other to engage in civil rights activities.

Searching for Colored Pin-Up Girls

According to Dr. Threat, this project is important to understanding how multitudes of  groups worked across racial, class, and even community lines to further social justice. The second project is a book-length manuscript tentatively titled, “Searching for Colored Pin-Up Girls: Race, Gender and Sexuality During World War II.”

This project focuses on Black female pin-ups and the Second World War. It examines home-front activities, wartime participation, and investigates how images and activities of  African-American women highlight debates about race and gendered identities and relationships during and after the Second World War.

For Dr. Threat, her published works and research are an expression of a belief  in
presenting history that is thorough, complex and incisive.

Convincing the World That History is More Than Names and Dates

“History is not just about names and dates,” she said. “It is also about the craft
and literary interpretation of  history. It is about more than just learning what is in general textbooks but thinking deeply about what is not and who is not in those
textbooks.”

This belief shapes the way Dr. Threat approaches her classroom and organizes her teaching.As a teacher, she believes it is critical to help students understand not only how to study race, gender, and yes, war, but also how to express the lessons history teaches about all three. Studying the past is important for the profound knowledge it provides about the present and the future.

Practicing and Mastering Her Research Craft

“As I continue to practice and master my research craft, it also allows me to teach
and explain the craft of  history to my students,” said Dr. Threat. “And that helps
to put my students on the road to becoming masters themselves, not just about history
but about the world around them.” 

This is the goal she has for every student and class she works with at Spelman. Dr. Threat has been honing her academic approach since her days as an undergraduate at the University of  California-Santa Barbara where, although she began as a marine biology major, she quickly found her passion in history and has never looked back.

She later earned her doctorate at the University of Iowa and served as an assistant professor at Northeastern University before joining Spelman in 2013.