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For the love of history

Elizabeth Matelski, PhD,had ties to St. Ignatius of Loyola before she had ever heard of Loyola University Chicago. Her hometown of St. Ignace, Michigan was named after St. Ignatius of Loyola when a Jesuit priest decreed the location as a missionary site. Now, Matelski has earned her doctorate in 19th- and 20th-century American history with a double minor in public history and women and gender history in 2011 from Loyola and is teaching history full-time at Loyola as a post-doctoral fellow.

Matelski credits her hometown, which is one of the oldest settlements in the country, as playing an integral part in helping her develop her love for history.

“While other kids were going on field trips to Six Flags and Cedar Point, we went to museums and historical reenactment sites. Really from a young age, [history] has been embedded as a culture of my hometown,” Matelski says.

This interest in history led Matelski to Loyola, which she said appealed to her because of its well-received public history program and the fact that professors offered courses on pop culture and women and gender studies. Matelski wrote her dissertation on the feminine body and beauty ideals in the post-war era.

“I started off with Marilyn Monroe. I’ve always been interested in the history of film, and Marilyn Monroe was probably one of the most complicated actresses of the post-war period. I wanted to look at how in a span of less than a decade our culture went from idolizing these voluptuous, busty blondes and then that suddenly seemed outdated, and now what is really in vogue is these really thin high-fashion models, coming after the British model Twiggy. I was curious about answering that question of how we went from one extreme to the next,” Matelski says.

Now, Matelski teaches two history courses at Loyola, American pluralism and history of U.S. sexuality.

“I just kind of caught the teaching bug and saw a real opportunity to affect a lot of people, including undergrads, and an opportunity to impart the import of history into contemporary lives,” Matleksi says.

In her teaching experiences, she says she finds a clear distinction between Loyola students and other college students in their desire to learn and continue to use that knowledge to create change in the world.

“The students are what sets Loyola apart from other schools I’ve taught at. There’s a real curiosity and passion for learning and for applying it to real-world situations. I think that really comes from the Jesuit pedagogy and the Jesuit ideals to do something with one’s education and to apply it to the real world as opposed to this never-ending struggle for a passing grade,” she says.

History is something Matelski sees as inherently valuable, both in the practical sense of navigating the job market and the broader sense of understanding the course of human civilization.

“History matters, and in particular today where the job market does seem really scary and you need practical skills. History certainly can import those practical skills: critical thinking, writing, communicating, being able to support an argument,” says Matelski. “Also, just the fact that the content matters as well; we can’t understand where we’re going and what the future holds for us if we don’t know where we have been.”

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