Scholar of the Year Elizabeth Todd-Breland
Rising Star, Arts and Humanities
Assistant professor of history
Years at UIC: 8
What are your research interests?
My research focuses on 20th-century U.S. urban and social history, African American history, and the history of education. I am also interested in interdisciplinary issues related to racial and economic inequality, urban politics and public policy, neighborhood transformation, education policy, and civic engagement. My book, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s analyzes transformations in Black politics, shifts in modes of education organizing, and the racial politics of education reform from the 1960s to the present. I am currently working with survivors, organizers, and other scholars in the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Oral History Project to collect oral histories from survivors of Chicago police torture, their family members, and impacted African American communities. We hope that this liberatory memory project will empower other communities to engage with reparations policy as a transformative means of addressing state violence.
How did you become interested in these topics?
I developed a love for African American history at a young age, influenced by my father in particular. My research has also been deeply impacted, influenced, and shaped by my work with young people, educators, schools, and community groups in Chicago.
What do you teach?
I teach courses on U.S. history, urban history, histories of race and education, and the history of Chicago.
How do you balance teaching and research?
I’m not sure that I have figured out balance. But, I do know that my research contributes to my teaching and my teaching contributes to my research. My research informs the content and pedagogy of my teaching. Our students are sharp! I learn a lot from teaching and advising students. Talking about my research with my students helps me to better communicate about my research.
What’s your advice to students who want to focus their future careers on research?
Follow your passion! You will be with your research projects for a long time. Study things that you are committed to and love. Research, for me, has never been solitary work. Build communities of colleagues and mentors as thought partners (peers and those who are senior to you). Your research will be made better by feedback and conversations with other people. You will be sustained in this work by the mentors and friends that you make along the way.