Dr. Emilie Raymond, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History
Written by John Powers, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of History
If you walked past the Campus Learning Gardens in the Summer of 2019, you might be surprised to find a group of History students tending a raised bed, practicing 1940s-era composting, and using natural fertilizers and soils with absolutely no plastic. These were students in Dr. Emilie Raymond’s “Food Policy during World War II” course working on the class Victory Garden. Although this course also had the reading and writing assignments one would expect in a college History course, the Victory Garden was a unique hands-on experience for Dr. Raymond’s students, many of whom knew nothing about plants or gardening. The Victory Garden represents the kind of innovative pedagogy and experiential learning that students have come to expect from Dr. Raymond’s courses.
Dr. Raymond is an historian of 20th-Century American political and popular culture who focuses on how the two intersect. She has written books on the rise of conservative politics through the lens of Charlton Heston and the NRA but also on how Hollywood celebrities, such as Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr., among others, participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Her current book project, “Bring Paul Home,” tells the transformative stories of Phyllis and Paul Galanti. Paul was a navy pilot who was shot down and survived as a POW in Vietnam for seven years (1966-73), while Phyllis became an activist who worked to secure the release of her husband. These parallel narratives serve as a case study in the rise of political activism and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 70s.
While pursuing her traditional historical scholarship, Dr. Raymond has fashioned herself into a practitioner of public history: history practiced and presented for public consumption (in places like museums, historical monuments, and media) rather than for the academy. Her journey into public history began around 2015, when she was recruited to be an historical expert for the PBS American Masters documentary, I Gotta Be Me, on the life and activism of Sammy Davis Jr. Since then, she has pursued more public-facing work. She has appeared on television (CBS-6, C-SPAN3) and radios shows (NPR, BBC) and published op-eds for The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. Her latest book project, “Bring Paul Home,” is contracted with a popular press with an eye towards public consumption.
Dr. Raymond is currently serving as a guest curator of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, working on an exhibit titled, “Virginia and the Vietnam War,” which is slated to open in Fall 2024. This exhibit will include objects and oral history accounts, and she has recruited VCU History student interns to assist her in this work. This project aligns her research interests with her public history practice and commitment to hands-on teaching.
Speaking of Dr. Raymond’s teaching, as the History Department’s Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Raymond has overseen and promoted the Public History Certificate Program during its first four years of existence. To give the program a public face, she has established the “Public History at VCU” blog on RAMpages, on which students and faculty regularly post regarding their research and experiences doing public history. She teaches a popular, “Controversies in Public History” course, but also encourage public history work in her other courses. In two of her graduate readings courses, Dr. Raymond had her students research the lives of soldiers who had been killed in Vietnam and are listed on Virginia War Memorial’s Shrine of Memory. She and her students then presented their findings at the Virginia War Memorial, as documented in this VCU News article. More recently, she had students in an undergraduate course research and create short videos on the lives of soldiers from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, which can be seen via the History Department website news feed.
Dr. Raymond is a leader in the History Department’s effort to pursue public-facing and community-engaged historical research and pedagogy. We are lucky to have her as our DGS and as our colleague.
- “Victory Gardening in the Undergraduate Classroom: Enhancing Student Research and Combating ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’ Across the University,” The History Teacher, 54, No. 2 (2021): 255-270.
- Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015.
- “Sammy Davis, Jr.: Public Image and Politics,” Cultural History, 4, no. 1 (2015): 42-63.
- Edited with Donald T. Critchlow. Hollywood and Politics: A Sourcebook. NY: Routledge Press, 2009.
“From My Cold, Dead Hands”: Charlton Heston and American Politics. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2006.