David R. Davies is professor in the School of Communication at the University of Southern Mississippi. Before entering academia, he was a reporter for 10 years in Arkansas, working for both the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette. Winner of the second Margaret A. Blanchard Dissertation Prize (in 1998), Davies is the author of The Press & Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement (University Press of Mississippi, 2001) and The Postwar Decline of American Newspapers, 1945-1965 (Praeger, 2006). He is co-editor (with Pam Parry) of the Women in American Political History book series (Lexington Press). AEJMC recently awarded him a $5000 Senior Scholar Grant to study Mississippi editor Ira Harkey.
When and how did you first become involved in AJHA?
My first AJHA was in 1994 in Roanoke, Virginia. At that time I was a first-year PhD student at the University of Alabama, and my adviser, Dr. David Sloan, had encouraged us to come to AJHA. I was amazed at the welcome the graduate students received, and I was hooked. AJHA has been my primary academic conference home ever since. I take absolutely any opportunity to tell folks how important this organization has been to my career.
You’ve recently been awarded an AEJMC Senior Scholar grant. How does that proposed project fit into your overall research agenda?
I've taught at Southern Miss since 1991, and I've spent almost two-thirds of my 30 years here in administrative jobs. While I enjoyed administration -- particularly my time as department chair -- I was unable to do as much research as I would have liked in those years. I was absolutely thrilled to receive the Senior Scholar grant, as it offers much-needed support for my research agenda as I've returned to the classroom full-time. The award means a lot to me because of my longtime membership in the AEJMC History Division, which as we all know shares much of the membership of AJHA.
The project is also important to me because of my longtime interest in Ira B. Harkey, Jr., of the Pascagoula Chronicle in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Harkey was an important voice of reason at a time when editorial leadership was lacking in much of Mississippi during the civil rights years. He was a rare breed indeed -- an integrationist! -- but his contributions to Mississippi journalism have been overlooked. I hope my project will represent progress in shedding light on Harkey and the important role he played in these years.
What do you believe is the importance of researching racial justice topics?
Researching historical topics in racial justice allows us to study how a society comes to terms with momentous change. Given the incredible upheaval in recent years surrounding racial justice, such insights are more important than ever. Sadly, I think there are many parallels between historical coverage of race and the coverage that we see today.
As a past dissertation prize winner and mentor of several Blanchard finalists, what advice do you have for advising historical dissertations?
Gosh, this is a tough one. My students' success is very much much a reflection of their hard work, resolve, and talent. But if I had to draw a few lessons from my experience, I would say it's most important for students to pick an important and compelling topic with ample primary sources. The advising process works best if there's a schedule of some sort. There's some elasticity built in, of course, but both adviser and student need something to serve as a guidepost for a timely completion. Then it's important to stay in touch with your adviser and committee as the work progresses. I don't have to tell you how important AJHA is to the process both for the sense of community it brings as well as for the research insights of our colleagues.
How does your international experience (teaching study abroad in England each year) influence your historical study?
The experience has given me so many opportunities to make cross-cultural comparisons in my history and writing classes. It's been absolutely invaluable. While I have not yet researched a British media history topic myself, several of my graduate students have, and it's been rewarding to watch their progress as they work in British archives and libraries.
What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of academia?
I'm an enthusiastic -- if not particularly gifted -- language learner. I've been taking Spanish and French classes here and there, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll finish my BA in Spanish in 2023. I've found that it's informed my teaching to have the experience of being a student again. I can now empathize better with the students as they have difficulties navigating the course management system or the university registration system or learning a new concept.
Otherwise, my wife Jennifer and I read, watch a lot of Netflix and tend to the dog and six cats. Annie the dog has gotten way more walks than usual in the Covid years, and we're all about that. And Jennifer and I are very much looking forward to traveling -- aren't we all -- once the pandemic is behind us all.