Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth Varon

October 07, 2013

For this month's Faculty Spotlight, an Iris initiative aimed at acknowledging distinguished female faculty and staff of the University, Iris magazine wishes to recognize Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History Elizabeth Varon.

UVa_Elizabeth_Varon(1)Few professors have as wide-ranging and unique specialties as Professor Varon, whose areas of expertise include the American South and the Civil War, Women and Gender History, and American cultural and social history (not to mention the electric guitar!). This fall semester, Professor Varon teaches two lecture courses, American History to 1865, and the Coming of the Civil War.

Professor Varon's passion for American history was born rather unexpectedly. Professor Varon is a first generation American born to a German mother and Turkish Sephardic Jewish father, who immigrated to the United States at a young age to attend university and later settled in Virginia. As a child, Varon accompanied her parents – described by Varon as "lovers of history" and "great believers in the promise of the United States" – it was on this exploration of Virginia, visiting famous historical sites such as Montpelier, Mount Vernon, Manassas, and Williamsburg, where her passion for history flourished. She pursued this interest in American History as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, but did not develop her affinity for women’s and gender history until she attended Yale as a graduate student, gaining inspiration from the renowned scholar Nancy Cott. With the help of Cott, Professor Varon began incorporating her newfound interest in gender history with her longstanding interest in American political and military history.

When asked about her motivation for joining the faculty at UVA, Professor Varon explained how – as a native Virginian and a historian of the Commonwealth - she had long admired the University. The history department is home to eminent scholars here in Varon's field, such as Gary Gallagher and Grace Hale.

"It has been possible for me here at UVA to achieve a terrific synergy between research and teaching. To my delight, the community includes not only fellow faculty but also graduate students and undergraduates; public history professionals such as park rangers, archivists and curators; and history-enthusiasts in Charlottesville and across central Virginia. Membership in this community is making me a better scholar and teacher," said Varon.

Alongside her teaching endeavors, Varon has continued delving into the history of the American South. She recently published her fourth book, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War, in which she takes a close look at General Lee's surrender and the transition into the Reconstruction era.

"Thanks to the ongoing Civil War sesquicentennial, this is an especially promising moment for moving beyond the confines of academe and reaching general readers—and for persuading the public that in order to understand the war's origins, course, and outcome, one has to study the interrelationship of the home front and battlefront, of military developments and civilian morale," Varon said about her book.

Through her books--all of which feature female voices and perspectives--Varon hopes to emphasize the pivotal role played by women in American history, a notion which some still regard with skepticism.

"I continue to relish the challenge of changing such people's minds," she explained.

For more information about Professor Varon and her department, please follow the link to the University of Virginia's Department of History.

By Anna Perina.

Image Credit: http://tinyurl.com/m3vy6qv

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