OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Kathi Kern

Portrait of Kathi Kern

Kathi Kern is an associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, where she also directs the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (celt) and holds an endowed professorship at the Chellgren Center in the Academy for Undergraduate Excellence. Her research focuses on the women's rights movement in nineteenth-century America, particularly on the ways religion, gender, and politics have mixed to create new ideological positions and social change. She is the author of many articles and book chapters as well as Mrs. Stanton's Bible (2001), selected as a Choice outstanding academic book. She has won her university's Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Teaching, its Alumni Great Teacher Award, and its college of education's "Teachers Who Make a Difference" Award. She has been actively engaged in research and outreach to public school teachers, teaching summer institutes in the Mississippi delta, in Alaska, and at the Smithsonian Institution, and authoring successful grants funded through the U.S. Department of Education Teaching American History grant program with awards totaling nearly $4 million. In her role as director of celt, she has worked extensively in international faculty development, training university faculty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. In 2009–2010, Kern was the Stanley Kelley Jr. Visiting Associate Professor for Distinguished Teaching in the religion department and the program in women and gender at Princeton University.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In this talk, Professor Kern uses the recent case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County (KY) clerk who refused to sign the marriage licenses of same-sex petitioners, to discuss the changing meaning of the concept of "religious freedom" in American history. What has it meant to be a "martyr for religious freedom"? The stories of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Kim Davis bookend this talk.
This talk traces pivotal moments in American history where citizens "took" their rights well before those rights were granted by law. Drawing on examples from voting rights and marriage history, Kern finds common ground among Americans of different eras who asserted their citizenship rights at the very place those rights might be denied: the voting booth and the courthouse.
When the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-Western author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, Americans paid attention. Wildly popular in the US, Tagore found readers from the plains of Texas to the Upper East Side. Drawing on archival collections in the US and in India, Kern reconstructs a lost chapter from our national cultural history. Americans found in Tagore, a source for thinking through pressing questions of the day, from gender roles to race relations.
With the numbers of students majoring in history in decline nationally, what can we do? In this talk, Kern makes a strong argument for reimagining the major in dramatic ways, both the content and the mode of delivery.