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Foundation Distinguished Professor elected to the Society of American Historians

Thursday, April 20, 2017

LAWRENCE – Beth Bailey, Foundation Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas, has been elected to the Society of American Historians, the field’s most distinguished society. 

Founded in 1939, the Society of American Historians promotes literary distinction in the writing and presentation of American history. Its nearly 400 members are academic historians and professional writers working in many different genres, all united by their commitment to present history with “vividness, clarity, empathy, narrative power and explanatory force.” Novelist Margaret Atwood and filmmaker Ken Burns are both members of this invitation-only society. 

A specialist in the history of relations between the U.S. military and American society as well as the history of gender and sexuality, Bailey joined KU’s Department of History in 2015 and is founding director of the university’s Center for Military, War & Society Studies in KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research. 

Bailey is one of 12 Foundation Distinguished Professors at KU. KU’s Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract eminent faculty members to support one of the university’s four strategic initiative themes.

“I’m honored to be invited to join such a distinguished group of scholars and writers, especially in an era when understanding U.S. history seems so vital for American society,” Bailey said. 

Bailey is a prolific writer and a major contributor to A People and A Nation, one of the most popular American history textbooks. Her most recent book, “America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force,” examines the nation’s move from the draft to voluntary enlistment in the wake of the Vietnam War. It analyzes the Army’s efforts to imagine and create a force that could respond to rapidly changing and complex international situations. It also offers a history of the United States from the war in Vietnam through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrating that the Army was the institution that most directly confronted the social change movements of the 1960s and their legacies, and was the site of critical struggles over the meaning of citizenship and its rights and obligations. 

In previous research, Bailey chronicled the dramatic shifts in courtship and sexual relations through her books “From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in 20th Century America” and “Sex in the Heartland,” the latter of which traces the struggles over sex and sexuality in post-WWII Lawrence. The book asserts that the sexual revolution was thoroughly part of American culture, born of widely shared beliefs and major transformations in the structure of American society — not something created by a set of radicals on the fringes of American society and imposed on the rest of the nation. 

Bailey — along with her husband, David Farber, the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of History — was a visiting assistant professor at KU in the late '80s. She and Farber co-wrote “The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii” and co-edited several other works. She recently co-edited a scholarly collection, “Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

Before returning to teach at KU, Bailey taught for 11 years at Temple University, and before that at the University of New Mexico and at Barnard College, Columbia University.