We are very excited to introduce our newest history curator, Becky Preiss Odom. Welcome to the Ohio History Connection!
My love of history began in the fourth grade when I researched my house for a school project. I went to several local historical societies and the county courthouse, and I conducted a series of oral histories with current and former residents of my home and others on the street that once constituted the independent Town of Stephensburg. I later majored in history at Haverford College, and it was during my tenure there that I worked at Elfreth’s Alley Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I loved giving tours of the historic houses because the museum setting enabled me to engage visitors in discussions of the past in ways that I had not encountered in the classroom, and I was hooked.
After college, I earned a master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program and interned at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. After graduation, I worked at the York County Heritage Trust in York, Pennsylvania, first as a Museum Educator and then as Curator of Collections. I loved the institution’s diverse collections, particularly the quilts, the Louis Miller Watercolor Collection, and the Defending America’s Freedom military collection.
In 2008, I returned to school to earn my Ph.D. in American Studies at Saint Louis University. My research focused on American cultural history from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression as well as visual culture, particularly photographs. I also taught classes on material and visual culture and clothing and American society. My dissertation, entitled “Negotiating Hyphenated Identities: Transnational Identity Formation of the German-American Residents of St. Charles, Missouri, during World War I,” examines the German-American city of St. Charles during the war that pitted residents’ political homeland against their cultural fatherland. Although St. Charles German-Americans experienced great pressure to assimilate, they instead shifted their identities between German and American when necessary to both express their loyalty to the U.S. and preserve their German cultural practices. The dynamic wartime relationship between the U.S. and Germany in different places and at different moments shaped the form and expression of German-Americans’ hyphenated identities. Photographs played a crucial role in this process as “safe” spaces in which German-Americans could freely express—and preserve—their identities, and they are an important component of my research. The story of St. Charles during the First World War counters the traditional claim of wide scale assimilation during the conflict and shows the importance of including local histories and individuals in broader narratives about the past.
The most rewarding parts of my academic experience were the opportunities I had to share my research with others in public presentations and publications. I am very excited about the depth and diversity of the Ohio History Connection’s collection, and I look forward to working with these objects that can tell us so much about Ohio’s history and culture.
Beck Preiss Odom, History Curator