Lisa Szefel, PhD

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Classes Offered

Undergraduate Surveys

  • Race in Modern America
  • U.S.  History since 1865
  • American Popular Culture
  • Human Rights and Social Movements

Undergraduate Seminars

  • Get Rich! Wealth in American History
  • The Reagan Era
  • The 1990s: Origins of the Current Crisis
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • Cold War America, 1945-1965
  • Mentoring in the Humanities
  • History of Conservatism

First Year Seminars

  • Wild Kingdoms: Stories, Animals, & Shelters           
  • Success: History, and How-To
  • Minds, Markets, and Morals
  • Ethics, Character, and Culture
  • Animals and Justice
  • Wild Kingdoms: Animals, Stories, and Selves
  • Culture, Character, and Class

Areas of Research & Specialization

My research interests center on the role of culture in the development of American values, movements for social change, and political life. Whether popular (soap operas), difficult (modernist poetry), or controversial (conservative intellectuals), my goal is to understand the underpinnings and impact of culture in modern U.S. history.

My first book, The Gospel of Beauty in the Progressive Era: Reforming American Verse and Values, charts the work of poets, critics, and editors who promoted reform by popularizing poetry. They worked behind the scenes to create an institutional infrastructure to support authors who addressed the problems inherent in contemporary life. I bring to center stage the story of the editors, anthologists, critics, and writers who believed that poetry reading facilitated self-knowledge and social justice. Situated between the genteel tradition and the avant garde, they linked creativity to moral obligation and, in doing so, refashioned Americans' understanding of both modernism and modern life.

Currently I am working on a biography of Peter Viereck, a long-time, very inspiring History professor that I studied with as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College. A Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Viereck coined the term "new conservatism" and provided a historical framework and intellectual genealogy for the nascent conservative movement. The Bollingen Prize Controversy of 1949: Cold War Culture and Politics.


Critical Thinking: In my classes, while we spend a great deal of time exploring the main individuals, events, and ideas that animated moments in the past, I also want students to learn that history is not an inert set of facts and figures; it consists of dynamic moments and causal relationships that need to be interpreted. Otherwise, in an age of Wikipedia, why study history? In my lecture classes, you will read textbooks (although I know some students may view such books as the intellectual equivalent of Castor Oil, they provide a solid foundation and reference point), primary documents, including letters, speeches, diaries, as well as novels and films (the Chocolate Oblivion Cake of assigned texts).

Strategic Reading: I am interested in teaching students how to be more active readers. Instead of perusing a text solely for content, you will learn how to be more strategic by looking for an author's argument, use of evidence, and contribution. Like a Sherlock Holmes mystery or an episode of CSI, close analysis can uncloak key information that leads to important discoveries, such as an author's values and assumptions. When you read, have a pen in hand, ready to engage in a dialogue with the text—the marginalia of brilliant individuals, like Coleridge, have been published in multi-volume series—because ascertaining what is really going on in a law, pamphlet, or speech, is fundamental for responsible participation in a democracy.

Writing: Susan Sontag once said that "Writing is a form of self-mastery" and a wise professor once told me: "When you write it, you own it." The ability to write in a clear, compelling manner is a hallmark of a college education. The process of composition clarifies your thinking and solidifies your learning. Whatever career you choose, solid writing skills will make you stand out.

Meaning, Value, and Weaving the Pieces Together: These skills can transfer to your everyday lives and career pursuits. Whether you are reading newspapers, Facebook posts, or Twitter, you will know to probe evidence and to seek more credible information before drawing a conclusion. You will also have a broader historical background with which to explain contemporary debates and you will know how to take a large amount of information and distill it into an organized, coherent narrative.

Academic Positions

2007-2012 | Assistant Professor of History, Pacific University

2003-2007 | Lecturer, History and Literature Department, Harvard University

2000-2003 | Instructor, Writing across the Disciplines, University of Rochester


PhD in history, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y., in 2004

Master of arts in history, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., in 1995

Bachelor of arts in history, Mount Holyoke College (Highest Honors), South Hadley, Mass., in 1988

Published Works

Szefel, Lisa. "Woody Allen and Wealth," Montreal Review. July 2013.

Szefel, Lisa, "The Gospel of Beauty in the Progressive Era: Reforming American Verse and Values," Palgrave Macmillan, April 2011.

Szefel, Lisa. "Review of Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture." History News Network. February 2011.

Szefel, Lisa. "Welcome Back, 1970s." History News Network. December 2008.

Szefel, Lisa. "Beauty and William Braithwaite." Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora (Selected as "Notable Essay of 2006" Best American Essays 2007.Ed. David Foster Wallace). Spring 2006.

Szefel, Lisa. "Encouraging Verse: William S. Braithwaite and the Poetics of Race." New England Quarterly (Reprinted in Harlem Renaissance, Vol. 1: A Gale Critical Companion. March 2011.


Moderator, Plenary Session on "Conservatism and Intellectual History: Pasts and Futures," Society for U.S. Intellectual History Conference, UC-Irvine, November 2013.

"Tall Ideas Dancing: Compassion, Capitalism, and the Aesthetics of Conservatism,"Organization of American Historians Conference" in April 2012.

"Intolerance of the Intellectuals: Peter Viereck’s Shame and Glory,"Conference on Public Intellectuals, Harvard University" in April 2012.

Panel Member, Roundtable: Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture, U.S. Intellectual History Conference, Center for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center in November 2011.

"The Postwar Literary Turn in American Politics," U.S. Intellectual History Conference, CUNY Graduate Center in November 2011.

"Reconstructing Reason: Values, Virtues, and the Moral Imagination in Postwar America,"The Enlightenment between Europe and the United States: Twentieth-Century Tensions, Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany in May 2011.

"Peter Viereck's Mid-Century 'New Conservatism': Uncautiously, Daring, Free-Thinking Lovers of Beauty,"US Intellectual History Conference, Center for the Humanities, City University of New York in October 2010.

"Reading Ezra Pound in the Cold War: The Bollingen Prize Controversy of 1949," Ezra Pound International Conference, Rome, Italy, in July 2009.

"The Conservative Road Not Taken: The Politics and Poetry of Peter Viereck," Columbia University in March 2009.

"Gender and the Presidential Election,"Center for Gender Equity, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Ore., in October 2008.

Moderator, Humanities Institute Conference,"The Other Side of Reason: The History of Madness Today," SUNY Buffalo in October 2008.

"Theodore Roosevelt and the Modern Bard," Popular Culture/American Culture Annual Conference, San Francisco, Calif., in March 2008.

"Cultural Conservative: Peter Viereck and European History" Mount Holyoke College, S. Hadley, MA in November 2006.

"New Critics, New York Intellectuals, and the Cultural Cold War," History and Literature Department Seminar, Harvard University in December 2006.

"Poetry in the Progressive Era," American Literary History Conference, Boston, Mass., in March 2005.

"The Politics of Culture, 1900-1950," American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Cambridge, Mass., in April 2005 .

Honor & Awards

2011 | Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship

2009 | Wye Faculty Seminar, The Aspen Institute

2008 | Durot Fellowship, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

2008 | Junior Faculty Development Award, Pacific University

2008 & 2012 | Junior Faculty Development Award, Pacific University

2006 | NEH Summer Institute/W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University

2004-05 | American Academy of Arts & Sciences: Visiting Scholar

2002 | Dexter Perkins Prize in Intellectual and Cultural History, University of Rochester

2002 | Curtis Peck Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, University of Rochester

1998 | Seven Society Graduate Fellowship for Superb Teaching, University of Virginia

1995-06 | Friedrich Ebert Stifung Research Fellowship (SDP), Berlin, Germany

1995 | German Historical Institute

1995 | German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Fellowship, Germany

Office Location: 
Marsh Hall 335 (Forest Grove)
Area of Study I Teach (Undergraduate):