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[VIRTUAL] The Common Room: Academic Freedom and the History Classroom

An online event co-hosted by PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program and the American Historical Association.

The principle of academic freedom dictates that faculty should have full latitude to speak, write, publish, and teach. But this principle is under threat, as history classrooms and professors have become intertwined with our polarized culture war, focused on by federal and state governments, bad faith trolls, and members of the general public. With these threats chilling open discourse, how can history professors continue to inspire democratic citizenship and forward a conversation about reckoning with the country’s past? How can they shore up academic freedom for all in today’s history classrooms?


Join Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech program, for an interactive forum to discuss these issues with special guests Laura McEnaney, professor of history at Whittier College; Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University; and Jonathan Zimmerman, professor in education and the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Common Room is a weekly series for faculty, administrators, staff, and students to explore issues at the intersection of free speech, academic freedom, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. PEN America Members, supporters, and friends, including the general public, are invited to attend.


Jonathan Friedman headshotJonathan Friedman (he/him/his) is the program director for campus free speech at PEN America, where he oversees PEN America’s advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. He served as lead author on PEN America’s 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, and on the production of its digital Campus Free Speech Guide. Friedman holds a PhD in international education from New York University, and he has previously received awards for his teaching, research, and leadership.


Hasan Kwame Jeffries headshotHasan Kwame Jeffries is associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, where he has been teaching courses on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement for the last 18 years. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt, and the editor of Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, which won the 2020 James Harvey Robinson Prize from the American Historical Association for the most outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history in any field for public or educational purposes. He also wrote and narrated the 10-episode Audible original series Great Figures of the Civil Rights Movement, which was released in February 2020. In the classroom, he has won several major teaching awards, including The Ohio State University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, the university’s highest award for teaching. Jeffries has worked on several public history projects, including serving as the lead historian for the five-year, $25 million renovation of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, TN. He is also the host of the podcast “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” a production of the Teaching Tolerance division of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which just wrapped up its second season. He earned a BA in history from Morehouse College in 1994 and a Ph.D. in American history with a specialization in African American history from Duke University in 2002.

Laura McEnaney headshotLaura McEnaney is vice president for the teaching division at the American Historical Association and professor of history at Whittier College. She has been teaching at Whittier College since 1996, after receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that same year. She teaches a variety of topics in modern U.S. history, including war and society, women and gender, modern American social movements, and, of course, every semester she is rethinking her survey course.  Her new book, Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago, explores the notion of “postwar” as an important phase of a war’s history.  She published previously on nuclear preparedness programs (Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties), and on topics related to gender, foreign policy, and the Cold War. She just completed a three-year appointment as the associate dean of faculty development, which enabled her to launch Whittier College’s first faculty-centered teaching and learning operation. Her current work is on Project 13, a professional development program aimed at helping college professors improve their teaching of the U.S. history survey. Project 13 will examine the handoff from high school social studies to college history, exploring the best practices and support mechanisms for faculty to reflect, experiment, and improve their classroom practice.

Jonathan Zimmerman headshotJonathan Zimmerman is the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education and Professor of History of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman is the author of The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America (Johns Hopkins University Press, October 2020) and seven other books. He is also a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and other popular newspapers and magazines. Zimmerman’s next book, Free Speech, and Why You Should Give a Damn (City of Light Press), will be published in Spring 2021. It is illustrated by Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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