We are #OAHistorians - Deb Hunter

Courtesy Deb Hunter. Photograph by Tony Hayes, Verve Studios, Nashville and Miami.

Deb Hunter, OAH member since 2016

I studied history, English literature and business at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with a B.A. in history and English and a business administration minor. The great thing about Lipscomb is getting access to the Vanderbilt University archives. From there, I studied acting at Vanderbilt and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center with the intention of learning character analysis more than the craft of acting, and I had every intention of pursuing my M.A. and Ph.D. But, along the way I took a sales position and have never had the opportunity to teach. To enhance my sales career, I acquired an advanced degree from the University of Notre Dame in negotiation.  

Why did you choose to major in history?

A professor once said, and I paraphrase…people have always had the same desires and motivations—in the past they simply wore different clothes and ate different foods than we do. That statement resonated with me and made me curious about what people experienced. I wanted to understand the past and teach others how exciting that knowledge can be. We can’t really understand ourselves or others until we comprehend the paths they have walked.   

What is your occupation? How did your history degree help you get where you are today?

Currently I’m focused on research and writing. My degree taught me to question information and to research and develop theories with meaningful, valid, and relevant documentation.

Why do you think studying history is important?

History gives each of us a sense of belonging; of finding out who we are as well as understanding where not to repeat mistakes. If it wasn’t for the journey of our individual ancestors, we would not be who we are or where we are today.

What would you tell someone who wants to study history but isn't sure what to do with their degree after graduation?

I would encourage them to continue their degree because education is the one thing no one can ever take from you. In other words, don’t be like me!

What is your current project? What brought you to it?

This month sees the U.K. release of Sexuality & Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare via Pen & Sword Books. It’s an all-female project that examines the societal mores of the British from the Anglo-Saxon, medieval, Tudor, Stuart, and Victorian eras. You could say we take a peek at the kinks of the British.

We have been working on the project since 2016, and it has been a labor of love. I noticed on social media that people were asking for more women writers to relate historical events and topics. Pen & Sword Books and I entered discussions—they were as excited as the project as I. With their approval, I invited writers I’ve admired for a while. We each share a passion for history and each brings an area of expertise to the project. Emma Haddon-Wright introduces a new approach to the legend of Lady Godiva. Annie Whitehead reveals the story of an Anglo-Saxon king removed from the throne after being caught in a ménage à trois with his wife and her mother. Jessica Cale unravels the mystery and code of Medieval Courtly Love tradition. Maryanne Coleman writes of the complexities of the Tudor marriage contracts. Judith Arnopp gives a brilliant essay on the relationship between Anne Boleyn and the courtier, poet, spy Sir Thomas Wyatt. Gayle Hulme writes of the tempestuous marriages of Mary, Queen of Scots. Dr. Beth Lynne explains the line of succession and how so many women gained the throne, beginning with Elizabeth I. The book ends with Victorian prostitution, its global influence, and its impact on cultural mores; this is my contribution.

Half of us are American and half are British; it’s an enticing historical look at the past.   

Tell us about your favorite find or experience while researching.

Nashville, high heel shoes, and America’s first art form; not necessarily in that order. I have to thank the Organization of American Historians for introducing me to the Historic New Orleans Collection at the meeting in New Orleans in 2017. Their panel discussion was intriguing, and they were very gracious in assisting me while researching my essay.   

What history book are you currently reading and what prompted you to read it?

I’m taking the autobiography of Victorian actress and socialite Lillie Langtry on vacation. She is an excellent study of feminism before the word existed. At a time when women couldn’t vote or own property, Lillie established an acting career after losing favor with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. She bought land and established a vineyard in California, owned estates—she owned property in early Hollywood—British and American theaters, and raced thoroughbred horses when women weren’t even allowed to place a bet. Legend has it that Langtry, Texas, was named after her by Judge Roy Bean, who established his courtroom there. In a contemporary connection, Pete Townsend of The Who reportedly wrote the song Pictures of Lily about her, and David Bowie later covered the song. Lillie’s Victorian Pub in Manhattan’s Theater District is named for her and serve wine from the vineyard Lillie established in California.

Lillie Langtry died a wealthy woman in her own right and on her terms. She is a fascinating character study.

Why did you join the OAH?

The Organization of American Historians has a long and distinguished history. I am honored to be a member, and in awe of the great minds that have committed to a standard of excellence that is dedicated to preserving and documenting the shared stories of our American experiment.

Posted: May 16, 2018
Tagged: OAHistorian, Around the Profession, OAH Works