Lisa Szefel, PhD

Associate Professor; History Department Chair
UC Box: 
Marsh Hall 335 (Forest Grove)
Areas I Teach: 

Classes Offered


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


  • 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
  • Crime, Corruption, and Scandal
  • The Great Depression
  • World War II

First Year Seminars     

  • 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 book about the Bollingen Prize Controversy of 1949. I'm also researching a biography of Peter Viereck,a Pulitzer-prize winning poet. Viereck coined the term "new conservatism" and provided a historical framework and intellectual genealogy for the nascent conservative movement. 



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?

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. As with 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, 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 quality 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 distil it into an organized, coherent narrative.


Academic Positions

2012-Present | Associate Professor of History, Pacific University

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, History | University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

MA, History | University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

BA, History | Mount Holyoke College (Highest Honors), South Hadley, MA


Published Works

Szefel, Lisa. "Critical Thinking as Cold War Weapon: Anxiety, Terror, and the Fate of Democracy in Cold War America," Journal of American Culture (March 2017)

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

Szefel, Lisa. Book Review of Michelle Nickerson, "Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right" (Princeton) in Women in Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, Vol. 17, No. 2. October 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.



"'Think or Die': Postwar Intellectuals Confront the Abyss," Organization of American Historians Conference, New Orleans, April 2017

"Dangerous Ideas: The 2016 Election Edition," The Athenaeum, Indianapolis, IN, 21 July 2016

"The Intellectual History of Conservatism and the Debate Over Ideas in America," Workshop on New Frontiers/New Currents at Indiana University/Purdue University Arts and Humanities Institute and American Studies Program, July 20-21, 2016 

Panelist, "Conservative Thinkers of the 20th Century," symposium at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016. 

"Cold War Cultural Politics: Public Intellectuals and the Bollingen Prize Controversy of 1949," Conference on Public Intellectuals, Harvard University, 2014

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, OR., 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, CA., 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, MA., in March 2005

"The Politics of Culture, 1900-1950," American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Cambridge, MA., 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 & 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