For Professor Laura Talamante, teaching involves more than instructing students on how to analyze and write about history; it’s about weaving her personal stories into her teaching to help students discover connections to the past.
Talamante, who teaches European and women’s history at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), focuses her teaching and research on issues related to human rights and social justice. Her expertise centers on the 18th century philosophical movement “the Enlightenment” and its effect on Revolutionary France, with a specific focus on women and citizenship development.
“There are a lot of steps to becoming a researcher and writer, and ultimately a good teacher and historian,” said Talamante, who also chairs CSUDH’s Academic Senate, and is well-regarded for her ability to create popular and educational co-curricular events on campus. “I believe people respond well to the way I communicate history and my research, which has a lot to do with the way we [historians] think about and share it.”
For her contributions to student success and university governance, Talamante has been honored with the 2018 Excellence in Service Award. The award acknowledges that service is an essential component of the mission of CSUDH and that professional activities extend beyond the walls of the university.
“As a Latina and first-generation college student who became a professor against the odds, winning the Excellence in Service Award literally made me break into my happy dance!” said Talamante, who was also recognized with the Presidential Advisor of the Year Award in 2013. “This award validates the willingness of members across campus to collaborate on unique projects and the value of bringing teaching, research, and service together in non-traditional ways.”
Talamante stays involved on and off campus in a variety of ways. She has co-hosted two Tournee Festivals of French Film at the university. She also previously served as a co-adviser with Doris Namala, a colonial Latin American historian at CSUDH, for the university’s chapter of the Phi Alpha Theta: National History Honor Society.
As a Latina and first-generation college student who became a professor against the odds, winning the Excellence in Service Award literally made me break into my happy dance! –Laura Talamante
In 2010, Talamante served as lead on a project with the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum that received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Landmarks of History and Culture grant. Through the grant CSUDH faculty from history and other departments partnered with the museum to create a multiple-disciplined, experiential learning program that explored the history of the Dominguez family from colonial days to the 1920s.
Talamante has also participated in the Faculty Advising Fellows Program at CSUDH, designed to increase student retention on campus by involving faculty in general education advising. She is also involved with her colleagues in developing high-impact practices (HIPS) for the Department of History, and presented with Namala in the HIPs in the States program held at CSUDH in February 2018.
“We’ve been doing HIPs for a long time, but until now didn’t really have a name for it in terms of how our pedagogy relates to the goals of HIPs,” explained Talamante. “What we try to get out of HIPs is transparency between our assignments in the classroom and what historians do in the field.”
Talamante, who earned a Ph.D. in 2003 from UCLA, has published several chapters and articles on her research and has earned nearly 30 awards and fellowships during her college and professional careers, including French residential fellowships from the Brown Foundation for the Dora Maar House in Menerbes, France, and the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France.
Her passion for French history began after Talamante read the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen,” which was written in 1791 by French activist, feminist, and playwright Olympe de Gouges in response to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”
“It’s a response to women being left out of the first French constitution, which left women with no voice or vote,” Talamante explained. “I found the topic so interesting and decided I needed to know more about the country. I learned how to speak French in my late 20s and thought that if I could do it that I should be able to go into French studies, so I did.”
Many of Talamante’s students have fallen in love with French history in similar ways—after being exposed to stories about French colonial history, the French Revolution, and the subsequent rise to prominence of Napoléon Bonaparte. It prompts them to become history teachers and/or learn more toward taking history courses as electives, according to Talamante.
“We always try to get students to think about their options beyond teaching, such as becoming archivists, or finding other career opportunities connected to history,” said Talamante. “Danny Jaimez, one of my former students, did an internship on the USS Iowa in San Pedro and, as a result, is now in Washington, D.C. in a museum studies program. That’s just one example of the options available for history majors.”
Jaimez (’15, B.A, history) began a 14-month Master’s in Museum Education at George Washington University in summer 2018.
“I really enjoyed Dr. Talamante’s courses. She’s a great educator,” said Jaimez, who is a member of Phi Alpha Theta. “I remember studying all these interesting women and about their lives and place in history and how being marginalized empowered them to become exceptional. She also brought in experts on other topics, such as her husband, who taught us about women mathematicians in history. She really mixed it up, which made her courses exciting.”
Talamante also enjoys integrating her personal interests, such as swing dancing, into her work to get her students more involved on campus. In 2015, she worked with Ron Parker, producer of the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble’s production of “The History of Black Dance in America,” to bring the troupe to campus to showcase the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest celebration in the nation of the end of slavery. Parker reached out to Talamante because of her previous success in 2013 working with local dance producer and choreographer Rusty Frank to create a swing dance event on campus called “Steppin’ Ahead! Dancers Breaking Down the Color Line.”
Adding to the event, CSUDH’s Department of Theatre and Dance performed swing dances, the University Chorus sang two songs, and Phi Alpha Theta students created an educational display in the lobby of the University Theater on the history of the music and dance of Central Avenue, L.A.’s African American community of the 1930s-40s. The event enabled students to experience the cultural phenomenon of jazz music and swing dance and its impact on the integration of black and white artistic culture in the 1930s.
“We wanted to get a lot of students involved, so we framed it through dance, showed historical clips, and had our students performing,” she said “It was a true historical exploration in the University Theatre of the history of jazz and all the different disciplines helped create a wonderful teachable moment.”