Member Spotlight: Dana Dabek

18 Apr 2022 2:06 PM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)

Dana Dabek is a doctoral student in the Department of Media & Communication at Temple University. She holds a BA in English and Women's and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey and an MA in Liberal Arts from The University of Pennsylvania.

When and how did you first become involved with AJHA?

I attended my first conference in fall 2020, at the advice of my advisor Carolyn Kitch. Even though the conference was held virtually, I could still feel the sense of camaraderie among the attendees. AJHA members know how to use Zoom chat to pump up the presenters, which definitely took off the sting of isolation a bit. My research is not always historical in nature, but I look forward to keeping the annual conference on my calendar year after year.

What is the historical importance of studying social movements? 

Ron Eyerman's work on collective memory and social movements has been very influential on my research and understanding of the interconnected space between a movement's past and its present. Movements are often linked with their past iterations by the media and the current members of the movement.  I think this is sometimes to its detriment, as an implied continuity can often bring the past's blind spots with it. But a social movement often does not spring suddenly out of a singular event. It has been brewing and bubbling. Understanding how an issue was advocated for in the past gives important contextualization to what is happening now.

How does your previous professional experience in non-profit work influence your research?

I spent all my non-profit career at grassroots organizations and in the beginning worked with an activist mindset. Because I have a sense of organizational management and movement building from that work, I find I bring insight into how decisions were made in past movements. What motivated an action? (Nine times out of ten, it's funding.) Who seem to be the key stakeholders? What might have been behind this messaging? I have also been misquoted a decent amount in my non-profit career, so I try to keep that in mind when inferring from a quote in print media.

One of my previous jobs was as a program director for a youth leadership program. As a public history site, our mission used figures in women's history to help inspire our program participants to become leaders in positive social action. So quite literally using previous social movements to spurn future social movements. 

Finally, I have always considered myself a feminist and approached my non-profit work from that perspective. Lately I personally have been grappling with what that identity really means and the influences that have shaped my sense of feminism and its legacy. My current project is rife with this grappling.

What can you tell us about any projects you're working on now?

Pending approval, I start my dissertation research this summer, so that project is very top of mind. I plan on examining how cultural notions of feminism from the Second Wave movement have impacted the interpretation at historic sites that place women at the center. So much historic preservation of women's sites occurred as a result of that movement's work. Specifically, I am looking at sites dedicated to women who may have proved problematic in our current cultural lens and how that has impacted (or not) the ways these sites do public history. I want to examine how current discourses of intersectionality have created a need for re-interpretation of historical events and figures and a re-examination of our collective memory of them.

This summer I will be hitting the road to meet with founders, current directors, and curators of at least ten different historic sites that have a focus on women's history to interview them and analyze their current exhibits and interpretative plans. I am hoping this research is not only interesting but can also bridge some gaps between academia and practitioners of public history.

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of academia?

While starting the dissertation process, I took a pottery class and have been using open studio time one evening a week to throw on the wheel. I thought it would be helpful to have a weekly activity to pull myself out of my head and into my hands. So far, it has helped. I get some of my best ideas elbow-deep in clay. I am now a proud owner of an extensive wonky pot collection. My family is also big into board and card games. Now that my stepdaughter is 10, we have been loving getting into more complicated and involved games. Mysterium and Catan are at the top of the list. 

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