Dr. Stephen Kercher
Photo: Shawn McAfee/UW Oshkosh Learning Technologies
By Tom Hanaway
Multimedia News Intern
Dr. Stephen Kercher is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Dr. Kercher, who earned his Ph.D. in history and American studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, specializes in post-WWII American history. He has received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008 and has directed history projects such as “Black Thursday,” “The Algoma Riots” and “Earth Day.” He co-founded and formerly directed the Northeast Wisconsin Teachers Academy for the Study of American History, a project funded by more than $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Kercher has been teaching at UW Oshkosh since 2000.
For this Setting the Course story, we asked Dr. Kercher a few questions about his passion of history, projects he has been a part of and his love for teaching.
Setting the Course PodcastIn the following audio-only podcast, Dr. Kercher discusses his course, America in the 1960s, which follows the counterculture movement, the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution. The class will be offered in Spring 2012. This podcast was conducted and produced by multimedia news intern Tom Hanaway.
1. What first got you interested in history?
I came to an appreciation of history rather late. History as it was conveyed to me in middle and
high school—with its specific attention to the rote memorization of names and dates—bored me to tears. As my intellectual curiosity grew in college I gave history another chance. In college
history classes, as I began to study how popular attitudes, political ideologies and social
movements evolved over time, the world around me became more relatable. Historical insights
were suddenly revelatory, and I was hooked for life.
2. What area of history do you enjoy the most?
I am interested in many facets of twentieth-century United States history, but I am most drawn to
cultural and intellectual history, the study of how ideas, cultural institutions and the popular arts
have reflected and influenced American life.
Kercher discussees Joseph Pulitzer's role in the Spanish-American War during a History 202 lecture on February 22, 2001. Photo taken by Shawn McAfee of UW Oshkosh Learning Technologies.
3. Why did you want to become a professor?
I imagined that devoting myself to researching and teaching history would continually engage
me in the world of ideas and allow me to help others understand the importance of our past.
4. You are originally from Illinois, so why did you decide to teach in Wisconsin? What drew you to Oshkosh?
I grew up in northern Illinois, with the Badger State practically in my backyard. I partook of
Wisconsin’s natural wonders often, traveling throughout the state to fish, ski, boat and play. I
was enrolled at both UW Madison and the University of Illinois but at the last minute chose the
latter because its in-state tuition was much less expensive.
The appeal of teaching in a beautiful state, particularly one with a state university system that has enjoyed such a great reputation, was immediate. My great colleagues in the History Department were another draw.
5. You have done several projects based on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s history, like "Black Thursday" and the "Algoma Riots." Why do you feel it is important to archive UWO’s history?
I strongly believe that we can all acquire a new, more nuanced understanding of our past when
we see how historical events played out in our backyard. For students, certainly, local history
often seems less distant and more immediate. “Black Thursday” and the “Algoma Riots”
demonstrate that the American crisis of race and the campus turmoil of the 1960s were not
confined to the South or campuses such as UC Berkeley. Their stories are important and
interesting in their own right, but each relate to other, wider historical moments that interest me
greatly. And both of them were also very well documented, so I - and the students who have
worked with me - have been able to piece together their stories with a surfeit of historical