Welcome to the newsletter for the Department of History at SF State.  We’re very excited to share with you the exciting and innovative work we and our students have been doing this year.  Thanks for all of your support!– Trevor Getz, Chair 

New in the Department

A new curriculum for a new era

We’ve all had frustrating conversations with family, friends, and colleagues who believe that history is an unchanging set of facts, and historians merely put those facts together into narratives that also never change. Well, we here in the SF State Department of History are proving them all wrong. We’re proud to be in the midst of rebuilding our curriculum to meet students’ needs for a new era. Funded in part by a grant from the Teagle Foundation, we’re building a curriculum that adheres to our tradition of social justice and critical education while emphasizing new competencies, skill building and a deep commitment to our mission and philosophy. Among the changes we’ve already made: adding a freshman seminar option, a new course on the History of Science, integrating new pedagogical approaches and offering such interesting senior seminars as “The Black Atlantic” and “Silicon Valley”.

As we move forward, we’re looking at revamping our World, Western, and U.S. history lower division surveys to include more skill development working with primary sources, adding more research papers at the upper division level and redesigning our advising structure. We may also add courses and emphases in digital history and public history. Many of you responded to the alumni survey we sent out in November. Your responses will serve as critical data in this redesign. So thank you!

The department welcomes Felicia Viator, Ph.D.

Felicia Viator is the Department of History's newest Americanist. She joins the faculty as a California specialist, a social historian, and a scholar especially interested in popular culture and the experiences of African Americans. She'll be teaching the California survey and upper division 20th-century U.S. history courses regularly. This spring she's offering a graduate seminar on American mass culture in which students will read scholarship about P.T. Barnum, flapper youth, Disneyland, disco and #blacklivesmatter. She also hopes to add to her routine a two-part undergraduate lecture course on the history of American mass culture.

Felicia's finishing her first book, County Blues: Los Angeles and the Rise of Gangsta Rap (Harvard University Press)​a work focused around one of the most controversial and impactful music trends in American history. Her other projects include an article on integration in Los Angeles public schools during the 1940s and 1950s and a study of white nationalist activity in California during the 1960s and 1970s. 

As a Bay Area native and an alum of a California public university, San Francisco State already feels like home to Felicia. She is thrilled to put down roots and join our community!

A big welcome to Karen “Kym” Morrison, Ph.D.

Kym Morrison is our new Assistant Professor of Latin American History.  She says this about joining the department:

“I’m excited to join the SF State Department of History after previously having taught at two East Coast universities. Teaching here gives me a greater opportunity to dialogue more fully about African-diaspora and Latin-American social justice issues. The discipline of history provides important insights into past and continuing social inequality and political marginalization. It allows me to share with my students real stories of people attempting to control their lives, both as individuals or as part of greater collectives, such as families, unions or nations.

My own research and writing emphasize such efforts in Brazil and Cuba, especially highlighting the social construction of race. I appreciate its evolution over time, but also demonstrate that it is a concept that has almost consistently negatively impacted non-European people. However, victimization is just one element of their lives. My first book Cuba’s Racial Crucible (2015) and my current Fulbright-funded research in Brazil respectively bring to fore how Afro-Cubans or Afro-Brazilians have continued to forge their own racial pride in the face of persistent denegation. Their lives have held many beautiful moments even in light of oppression, and I hope my students see value in the positive and negative nuances of their own lives as they engage with me in exploring such nuances from the past.”

Kym’s Cuba's Racial Crucible​ just won the  Marissa Navarro Best Book Prize awarded by NECLAS.  Join me in congratulating her!

Farewell to Dr. Sherry Keith

Dr. Keith, who specializes in both Latin American history and the history of American Childhood, retired at the end of the Fall 2016 semester. Her newest book, Brazil Lost and Found, is historical fiction published by Hill Press.  The Department of History staff and faculty will miss Sherry, as will her dedicated fan club of history majors. We wish her all the best as she moves into her next adventure. If you’d like to congratulate her personally, please feel free to send her a message at

Gifts to support students and curriculum

Last month, the department celebrated news of two gifts that will help is reach our goals of providing more students access to a high-quality education in history. In both cases the donors wish to remain anonymous.

The first gift is a $100,000 gift over five years for to establish the Shirley Barnett Memorial Scholarship Fund.  This scholarship will provide $78,000 in funding during that period for undergraduate and graduate students (over the age of 40) with declared history majors .  These generous scholarships will follow the students for several years. In addition, this fund provides some money for departmental curricular and pedagogical development to cover release time for a faculty member, to fund our 'marketing' efforts, and to be used at the chair's discretion.  This is a very generous gift and we will use it to recruit, retain, and teach students!  I'm hoping that the graduate scholarships, especially, can be directed towards recruiting teachers and other professionals to come back for a History M.A.

The second gift is a one-time $10,000 donation aimed at improving our survey level courses.  We intend use this money to support curricular innovation by providing stipends to faculty to do produce deep, intensive units on important, relevant topics in our curriculum.

Profiles in History

In each newsletter, we celebrate our alums who have furthered the mission of the department and contributed to a better world!

Aliya Dunn-Salahuddin

Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin attended San Francisco State from 2009-2012 earning both her B.A. and M.A. in American History with an emphasis in the Black experience and ethnic and race relations. Currently, Aliyah is the department chair of African-American Studies at City College of San Francisco. She teaches African-American History and 20th Century U.S. History. In addition to her faculty position she is taking the lead on documenting the 1966 Uprising in San Francisco's Bay View Hunters Point, a pivotal moment in the Black San Francisco experience. This research will be included as a chapter for an anthology that comes from participation in the NEH Seminar: Rethinking Black Freedom Studies, the Jim Crow North and West which we hope to publish in 2018. 

“As a student within the Department of History at SF State,  I learned that history as discipline was informed by our present, that drawing connections and thinking critically about how history is created is as important as understanding general change over time."

Elspeth Olson

Elspeth Olson, who completed her M.A. with the Department of History in 2011, is the Librarian/Archivist at the American Bookbinders Museum in San Francisco, where she also runs the museum social media, manages the blog and contributes to exhibit design and installation.

“The wonderful thing about a being a librarian with a background in history is the way the academic experience trained me to look actively for multiple perspectives on an issue and multiple approaches to a topic. This is tremendously useful in cataloging, as I have to think about how someone might look for a given item. I can’t assume that everyone knows exactly which book they’re looking for. For the entire time I was at SF State, the main library was under construction, and I learned a challenging lesson in the value of what librarians call “serendipitous discovery.” When your only way into a library collection is through the online catalog, rather than through browsing the shelves, research becomes significantly more challenging. As I catalog the library of the American Bookbinders Museum, I try to think of the different approaches that might lead someone to find an item that maybe they didn’t know they were looking for. This skill goes for the museum as well - we are certainly a niche-subject museum, but it’s a lens through which to view larger issues like gender, labor and mechanization.”

Rob Alper

Rob Alper – B.A. ’05, M.A. ’08 – is the Subject Matter Expert (SME) in U.S. History for the publishing giant Cengage Learning.  His responsibilities include collaboration on editorial, digital production and back-end engineering to build engaging, interactive and compelling digital learning solutions for use in higher education history courses.  His team his built a suite of digital, primary-source based, activity-driven U.S. history courses that advance student proficiency in essential 21st century skills.

“Nutshell: What did I learn in the Department of History at SF State that serves me today?  The ability to methodically and thoughtfully, yet quickly, digest and synthesize massive amounts of content and data. A true sense of collaboration and collegiality, two of the most sought after “soft skills” by HR departments.  Impeccable writing skills, a cornerstone of effective communication in the digital realm. An abiding respect for the coexistence of theory and practice.”

Celebrate these alumni with us, and contribute your own story via our facebook group.

Ongoing Traditions

We are pleased to announce that Ex Post Facto, the History Students' journal, will publish its twenty-sixth volume in Spring 2017. In 2015 the journal underwent a massive redesign, resulting in a book that is more modern and professional in appearance.

This year's edition will make its debut at the Honors Colloquium on May 14.

The journal not only continues to promote academic excellence and provide invaluable experiences for both editors and writers, it also remains free for anyone interested in obtaining a copy. The past two years' volumes are also available online for those interested in seeing what our academic community has been producing. We are continuing to digitize past volumes in hopes of having a complete digital library available in the near future.

To recognize the very best in student writing, we continue to bestow the Joseph Mullins Prizes in History to the finest undergraduate and graduate essays in each volume. We are especially grateful for the continued support of our donors whose generous gifts make the Joseph Mullins Prizes possible. Last year's prizes went to Michael Hephner for his essay, "The End of an Era: American Media Coverage of the Surrender of Saigon” and Olivia Ward for her essay “Impure and Vile: Limpieza de Sangre and Racial Formation in Early Modern Spain.”

In spite of the fact that university support for the production of print journals has ceased, the department has found the monetary resources to make sure that this tradition of excellence continues.

Print is not dead! Long live Ex Post Facto!

Upcoming Events

The Department of History honors banquet will be held this year at the Seven Hills Center at noon on May 13, 2017. We will hear from and present awards and scholarships to our wonderful students. Come mingle with your fellow historians!  Email us at for more information and free tickets.