Member Spotlight: Claire Rounkles

15 May 2022 2:27 PM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)

AJHA Graduate Student Chair Claire Rounkles is a doctoral student studying media history at the Missouri School of Journalism, where she also earned her bachelor's degree. Rounkles received the AEJMC History Division's 2020 Hazel Dicken-Garcia Award for Outstanding Master's Thesis for her work completed at Ohio University under the direction of Aimee Edmondson and Mike Sweeney.

When and how did you first become involved with AJHA?

I became active with AJHA in 2017 at the national convention in Little Rock, Arkansas. As an undergrad at the time, it was my first academic conference. Earlier that year, I submitted my first research paper. It, unfortunately, was not accepted, but the conference was a great learning experience as a first-time scholar. At the conference, I was welcomed by the grad students and encouraged to volunteer at the conference where I met so many welcoming faculty, historians, and mentors. A couple of the grad students I met, Bailey Dick and Ken Ward, encouraged me to apply to Ohio University, which was the beginning of my academic journey.

Why do you think AJHA is a good organization for students?

As a young scholar, you often hear horror stories of entering academic spaces and not feeling welcomed. AJHA is exactly the opposite. I’ve attended many in-person and online conferences with AJHA and feel just as welcomed as I did as an undergraduate student during my first conference. Throughout my time in AJHA, I have also found many mentors and possible collaborators in research. There are also many opportunities to expand and grow with leadership opportunities.

What is the importance of studying topics such as lynching and racial bias in the media?

It is important to study hard topics such as lynching and racial bias in journalism because journalists are not objective bystanders but rather actors who are critical to the social voice regarding the coverage of these topics. Just as the profession of journalism has improved and grown, it’s crucial to address the wrongs of the past. By specifically focusing on the horrific nature of lynching coverage, I hope to restore the stories of these lynchings to our history and bring to light the faults of journalism's coverage of these murders. I also hope to shed light on the work of local Black journalists who actively worked in the anti-lynching movement.

How does your emphasis on photojournalism and visual communication intersect with your historical research?

Before I decided to have a career in academia and research, my original goal in life was to become a photojournalist. This background in photojournalism has encouraged me to expand my research to incorporate more visual components. Throughout my experience working as a photographer and photo editor, I learned about the disparities in covering minority communities and people of color. Because everything comes from a cultivated historical past, I wanted to know how these issues became so predominant in the practice of photojournalism.

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

Currently, I am starting research for my dissertation. I have created a database of Black newspapers published in the American Midwest. There are around 702 Black newspapers found, and over 12,300 article hits were found concerning lynching. This database is the base of the data available for my dissertation research which will explore the timeline of the anti-lynching movement in the Midwest Black Press.

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

Outside of academia, I still use my skills as a historian to help with community projects. In 2019 I started the groundwork for an initiative to restore two historically Black cemeteries in Chillicothe, Missouri. In the summer of 2020, this initiative took off with the Chillicothe high school and local volunteers. This passion project has led to a new project documenting Black veterans whose records have been lost. Besides working with community organizations, I enjoy gardening on my family’s farm and antiquing.

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