History professor named distinguished lecturer by national organization

History Professor James Downs has been selected as a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.
History Professor James Downs has been selected as a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.

History professor James Downs has been recognized by his peers for his ability to teach complex American history topics to audiences of all backgrounds and levels of education.

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) has named Downs as one of its new Distinguished Lecturers. With 7,800 members, OAH is the largest professional society dedicated to teaching American history.

The OAH recommends expert lecturers on a variety of topics to universities, high schools and other organizations. Downs will be a featured lecturer through 2017 and will give lectures throughout the country, including to audiences unfamiliar with his published works. In return, he will donate some of his honorariums to the OAH.

"We're delighted that Jim Downs agreed to serve as one of our new OAH Distinguished Lecturers, starting in 2014-2015,” said Annette Windhorn, OAH lectureship coordinator. “He joins a group of more than 400 historians who work hard to present often complex ideas about U.S. history to general audiences."

Windhorn said the OAH nominating committee’s interest in Downs was sparked by the work Downs did to bring the concepts from his book “Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction,” to the general public. In “Sick from Freedom,” Downs reveals that more than 1 million former slaves became sick or died at the moment of freedom. Following publication, Downs traveled the country giving lectures on the book’s content, and Windhorn said those talks impressed the OAH nominating committee.

Much of Downs’ research, lectures and writing is devoted to parts of American history that may have been glossed over or forgotten.  In one upcoming book, he will explore 19th century cholera epidemics. In another, Downs delves into the history of sexuality, including an examination of the 1973 Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people and is the largest-known massacre of gay men in American history. Downs wrote about the Upstairs Lounge fire in TIME magazine in 2013.

Downs enjoys presenting lectures to audiences outside of the College classroom sphere. “I believe in this kind of intellectual work because it allows diverse audiences to engage in topics that they normally wouldn’t,” Downs said.

In addition to his books, Downs contributes regularly to news outlets, including The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Huffington Post.

Journalist Herbert Dyer, Jr. referenced Downs’ Huffington Post piece on African American roots of Memorial Day in an article about the holiday’s significance. 

May 23, 2014