NIU Today | History Professor Aaron Fogleman named 2024 Board of Trustees Professor

Aaron Fogleman

History is still being written—and discovered. And perhaps among its most successful explorers is NIU History Professor Aaron Fogleman.

His work on revolution, slavery, gender, religion and forced and free transatlantic migrations has helped develop the fields of early America and the Atlantic World—an area of study focusing on interactions among the people of Europe, Africa and the Americas from the 15th to the mid-19th centuries.

“There is no doubt that Dr. Fogleman is a leading voice among Atlantic World historians,” says NIU Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Bob Brinkmann. “He has had a long and rich career at NIU that put him in the midst of the international scholarship that emerged in the last 30 years. He is widely recognized as a key contributor to the literature on this topic and his ideas have sparked important scholarship.”

For his internationally recognized research, service within the NIU community and passion for helping students to succeed—many have gone on to become historians themselves—the university has awarded Fogleman with its 2024 Board of Trustees Professorship. The professorship is the top university honor reserved for faculty members who demonstrate excellence in all facets of teaching, service, leadership and research or artistry.

The author of numerous academic articles and four books, Fogleman sheds light on important but long overlooked aspects of history—both the colonizers and the colonized, and the free and the unfree migrants.

The NIU professor’s impressive body of work includes his 2013 book, Two Troubled Souls,” which traces the lives of a married couple who, as missionaries and religious seekers, traveled Europe, the Caribbean and North America during the 18th century. Through their personal history, Fogleman illuminates the challenges of the era and the roles of religion, gender and marriage at that time. The book received the American Historical Association’s 2014 James Rawley Prize, honoring the best book exploring the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century.

Last year, Fogleman and his former doctoral student, Robert Hanserd,  published the book, “Five Hundred African Voices,” bringing together an unprecedented number of life stories of African slave ship survivors. Recognized as an indispensable resource for scholars, the book catalogs nearly 500 discrete accounts and more than 2,500 printings of those accounts published over four centuries in numerous Atlantic languages.

Susan Branson, professor and chair of the History Department at Syracuse University, says Fogleman’s strengths can be found in “his ability to view events and individuals from a new perspective.”

“Often these insights come from his talent for archival investigation; he is a scholar who questions boundaries of accepted wisdom, and in the process uncovers neglected, or disregarded documents that reveal new information,” Branson says. “Uncovering hundreds of slave narratives, that historians claimed did not exist, is the most recent example of this ability.”

A 22-year veteran of NIU, Fogleman has been the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the NIU Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professorship. He serves on institutional boards at NIU, on national and international grant-awarding committees, and as a referee for scholarly research in national and international journals.

What’s more, Fogleman’s classroom credentials are impeccable. He has taught 5,000 students at all levels, sat on 13 dissertation committees (directing six), employed eight research assistants and directed hundreds of research projects, field essays, seminar papers and senior theses. His former Ph.D. students hold professorships at the likes of the University of Iowa and the College of William and Mary.

“I challenge students to excel while supporting those needing extra care,” Fogleman says. “I support students who are diverse in age, heritage, gender and sexual orientation. We emphasize current relevance and history that matters, so students recognize themselves when studying history.”

Not surprisingly, Fogleman’s former students sing his praises and often cite their professor’s encouragement to “think big.”

Under Fogleman’s guidance, for example, Jeremy Knoll accomplished an incredible feat as an undergraduate. He conceptualized and carried out an analysis of Illinois Civil War monuments for Research Rookies, presented his findings to Illinois historians, and published the research in the highly respected Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.

“Even now, we continue to correspond regularly, and his advice has continued to help me in my graduate studies,” says Knoll, who’s now a Ph.D. student in history at The Ohio State University. “Dr. Fogleman’s impact on my life as both mentor and professor has enabled me to reach heights in my academic career that I had never anticipated.”

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