Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Adam Stanley

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Pioneer Spotlight
October 28, 2016
Dr. Adam Stanley

Dr. Adam Stanley, associate professor of history, has been at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since 2005. A native of central Illinois, he received a Bachelor of Arts in history and English from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, before going on to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he received a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in history. He has two children and is married to Elizabeth Holden, who teaches engineering physics at UW-Platteville.

Stanley teaches World Civilization II, Ancient Civilizations, French Revolution and Napoleon, Historiography and Research Methods, History of Science and Technology in Europe: Faculty-Led Short-Term International Experience, Modern Japan, and Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

What do you enjoy most about teaching history and how do you inspire curiosity and a thirst for knowledge in your students?

I enjoy the challenge of teaching a subject that many students find uninteresting before they come into my class, then trying to win over their interest in the material. I always enjoy when students tell me (or write on course evaluations) that although they had not been eager to take a history class, their enrollment in my course has provided them with a newfound interest in history.

I try to engage students by putting my own passion for teaching and the course material on full display in the classroom, hoping that this will inspire in students greater interest and curiosity about the course, and for the study of history in general. Indeed, my students’ most frequent comment about me on teaching evaluations is my enthusiasm in class, and many students indicate that this increases their interest as well, even for those students who first come into my class unsure about the idea of taking a history course.  

What inspired you to pursue this career?

First, as an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to have outstanding history professors who inspired me to complete a history major (in addition to English, which was my originally declared major when I began college), and then to go on from there to graduate study in history. Second, when I went to graduate school, I initially thought that I wanted to pursue a more research-oriented path as a professional historian. However, in my first semester as a teaching assistant in graduate school, I was assigned to give a lecture one day in a survey class when the professor was out of town at a conference. I found immediately during that lecture that I loved teaching far more than I enjoyed research, and from that point forward, my goal was someday to become a professor at a teaching-focused university, which is, of course, what I found at UW-Platteville. 

This summer, you led a short-term study abroad course in Europe that gave students the opportunity to examine the modern scientific and technological history of Europe over the past five centuries. What did you and the students most enjoy about this experience?

There were several really noteworthy highlights on this year’s program. I think that one of the unique and very popular moments involved visiting a museum’s storage site, which admittedly does not at first sound especially enthralling. One of our planned destinations, Museum Boerhaave (a wide-ranging history of science museum) in Leiden, Netherlands, is currently closed for renovation. However, in some previous years on this program, my co-instructor Elizabeth Holden and I have toured this museum with students, and we have developed a good relationship with the museum’s staff. Because of this, we were allowed to tour the museum’s storage facility, where the collection is being kept during the renovation. This may not sound especially engaging, but it turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Our students enjoyed being able to see all of the elements of the museum’s collections in one place, since usually only a small fraction of the museum’s holdings are on public display at any one time. In addition, whenever we were guided into the next room at the storage site, no one knew what we might find there (including the museum staff, who understandably did not know immediately from memory exactly where every single item was in this large storage facility), so it was a delightfully unpredictable experience compared to the ordinarily more choreographed environment of a museum tour. For example, at one point, one member of our group noticed on a shelf a small rock, in a case, attached to a plaque. When he asked the museum staff about it, we learned that it was a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission. 

How do short-term faculty-led study abroad experiences impact your teaching?

In multiple ways, but I think most notably is the way in which I can teach subjects in the classroom at UW-Platteville differently – and, I hope, more effectively – once I have visited in person in Europe the locations about which I am teaching. For example, we have visited three different Nazi concentration camps on the short-term study abroad program since 2012, and the manner in which I now teach about concentration camps in World Civ II or in my upper-level Nazi Germany course is very much informed and influenced by my experiences visiting such camps in person, and my hope is that this translates into a more engaging and edifying presentation in the classroom.

You have a research interest in the history of women and gender in France and Germany in the 20th century. What drew you to this area of interest?

Luck, as is so often the case. As a graduate student, I was looking to complete a research project for one of my courses. I had a vague sense that I wanted to focus on some as-yet-undetermined element of European social and cultural history in the early 20th century. When I began exploring options for research materials accessible to me, I discovered that one of the separate collections areas of the Purdue University (where I was a student) libraries had a sizeable collection of late 19th-century and early 20th-century newspapers and periodicals from various western and central European countries. I began looking at those, and was immediately struck not by the content of the articles themselves in those newspapers and periodicals, but by the manner in which advertisements in those publications strongly stood out to me – in particular, the ways in which advertisements for all sorts of products portrayed and addressed men as opposed to women. Ever since, my research interests and projects have focused one way or another on the use of mass media and print advertising as source material to study the cultural history of gender.

Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email


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