You are here: American University College of Arts & Sciences History PhD PhD Student Profiles

PhD Student Profiles

Our PhD students are a diverse and dynamic group of historians, each brining their unique expertise and passion to our research community. From exploring the depths of the archives to driving new inquiries in their respective fields, they are committed to advancing historical knowledge and making a lasting impact on our understanding of the past.


Reza H. Akbari

Reza is a PhD candidate studying the modern Middle East, modern Iran, and critical theory. His research focuses on Iran’s political parties and their role amid the country’s evolving state-society relations since 1906. Reza is a Program Manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and has previously served as a Research Associate at the Middle East Institute and a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His master’s thesis explores the potential for political reconciliation in Bahrain. Reza has also written for a number of publications such as Foreign Policy, the Guardian, and Jadaliyya.

Field: Modern Middle East History, Modern Iran, Critical Theory

Dissertation: Process of Political Party Formation, Participation, and Survival in Modern Iran

Faculty Advisor: Pedram Partovi, Elizabeth F. Thompson, Gautham Rao

Education: MA, Middle East Studies, The George Washington University; BA, Political Science and International Studies, State University of New York at Fredonia

Research Interests: State-society relations, state formation, social movements, colonialism, nationalism, political parties, American foreign policy toward the Middle East


Carmen Bolt

Carmen Bolt is a doctoral candidate at American University focusing on Environmental Justice and Public History. She comes to AU from William & Mary where she served as Oral Historian. Her research and Public History praxis are rooted in an ethics of care that centers the embodied experiences of those most vulnerable to environmental injustice. Her dissertation, titled “The Routine and the Extreme: A Critical Environmental History of Water in Washington, DC,” considers how water, conceived broadly, has shaped the history of Washington, DC’s communities of color over the course of the 20th and into the 21st century. In particular, she plans to explore the ways in which water (and access to it) has manifested as compounding environmental injustices during this period.

Field: Critical Environmental History and Environmental Justice; Modern U.S. History with an emphasis on Social History “From Below”; Public History/Oral History.

Faculty Advisor: Theresa Runstedtler

Education: BA '14 History/Political Science, Virginia Tech. MA '16 History/Public History, Virginia Tech.

Research Interests: The urban environment and urban “hazardscapes”; Washington D.C. history; the built environment; environmental justice; disaster history; how race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, etc. shape the material realities and lived experience of persons in urban space.


Mary Cooper

Mary Cooper is from Sanford, North Carolina. After obtaining her Associates, she transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Tarheels!). She continued her education by getting her Master’s degree at UNC-Wilmington. There she also worked at the Burgwin-Wright House as a historical interpreter. During the Summer of 2019 she had the amazing opportunity to intern at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. After teaching at a community college for a year, she decided to return to academia and obtain her PhD. She is one of nine children and loves having a big family. She is also a proud pet parent of two cats and a bird. When not hanging out with her pets, she can often be found crafting, playing D&D, or enjoying the beach.

Field: Colonial and Early America, Public History, and Material Culture

Dissertation: “The Devil’s in the Details: How Salem Became the Witch City”

Faculty Advisor: Kate Haulman and Malgorzata Rymsza-Pawlowska

Education: Central Carolina Community College (Associates, 2014); University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (BA in History and Archaeology, 2016); University of North Carolina at Wilmington (MA in Public History, 2019)

Research Interests: Public memory, dark tourism, colonial New England, Native American and European colonial interactions, gender and women’s history, the American Revolution.


Rachael Davis

Rachael Davis is a third-year Ph.D. student studying American Jewish women with Dr. Pamela Nadell. She is currently the Editorial Assistant of the Rebecca Gratz Digital Collection at Gratz College.

Henry Dickmeyer

Henry Dickmeyer is from Seattle, Washington. After receiving his B.A. in Economics from Occidental College in Los Angeles, Henry taught middle and high school U.S. History in New York City for five years. His experience teaching primary documents to students and attending workshops inspired him to undertake research with a passion for exploring how identity, citizenship, and the state have informed one another over time. In the future, Henry hopes to translate his research into education or advocacy work. When not stuck in the archives, Henry can be found reading baseball statistics, riding his bike, or eating the best sandwich in whatever city he finds himself in.

Field: 19th Century U.S. History, Modern U.S. History, Critical Race Studies

Faculty Advisor: Gautham Rao

Education: BA Economics from Occidental College; M.A. Teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University

Research Interests: Whiteness Studies, Citizenship, Legal History, Slavery and Abolition, Migration Studies

Dissertation Title: Policing Freedom: Race, Law, and Urban Statecraft in Philadelphia, 1838-1872


Jonah Estess

A Brooklyn native, Jonah Estess received his BA (history) from CUNY Brooklyn College. His dissertation, “Bank and State: Money, Law, and Moral Economy in the United States, 1775-1896,” explores the politicization of coinage and paper currency and institutional consolidation of monetary sovereignty. His diverse research interests span early America, the modern U.S., American Jewish history, political economy, and legal history, material culture, and extend into contemporary public policy and economic governance. When not dissertating, Jonah enjoys time with his partner, friends, and family, baking, playing tennis, and collecting coins.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Gautham Rao

Dissertation Committee: Dr. Gautham Rao, Dr. Kate Haulman, Dr. Alan Kraut, Dr. Sofia Valeonti

Mark Episkopos

Mark Episkopos received his BA and MA from Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Affairs. He wrote his Master’s thesis on Imperial Russia’s Grand Strategy toward the Ottoman Empire from 1682 to 1796. His research interests cover Russian history, collective memory, and the theory and practice of foreign policy. Mark currently works as a national security reporter for The National Interest, a foreign affairs publication based in Washington, D.C. He is a fifth-year PhD candidate writing his dissertation on contemporary Russia’s historical memory of the Second World War.

Field: Russian History, Military History, Theory of International Relations

Faculty Advisors: Eric Lohr, Anton Fedyashin, and Marlene Laruelle

Education: MA in International Affairs at the Pardee School of Global Affairs, Boston University; BA in International Relations at Pardee School of Global Affairs, Boston University

Research Interests: American Jewish history, history of antisemitism, extremist groups, Jewish politics, Jewish refugees in America


Gavin Frome

Field: US Foreign Relations, American Protestantism, History of Viet Nam

Dissertation: American Protestant Service Workers in Viet Nam, 1954-1975

Faculty Advisor: Peter Kuznick

Dissertation Committee: Peter Kuznick, Justin Jacobs, David Vine

Education: BA, Boston College; MA, American University


Ben Holt

Ben Holt is from Houston, Texas. He received a BA in History with a specialization in European History from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario. Furthermore, he completed a collaborative MA in European History and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies and the Department of History. His thesis focused on the participation and contribution of Jewish youth to the French Resistance from 1940 to 1944. Outside of the classroom, Ben enjoys traveling, reading, exploring, hiking, going to the gym, and visiting museums.

Field: Holocaust Studies, Modern Jewish History, French History, Youth History, European History.

Faculty Advisor: Lisa Leff

Education: BA ’20 History, University of Toronto. MA ’21 European History and Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

Research Interests: French Jewry, Jewish Youth, the French Resistance, the Second World War, Communism and Gaullism, Antisemitism, National Identity and Citizenship, Memory


Linda Killian

Linda Killian is a PhD candidate focusing on the founding period and political history. She is also a journalist and author of The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents and The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? She is a former editor of All Things Considered on National Public Radio and was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was the founding director of the Boston University Washington Journalism Center and a BU journalism professor. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Politico, USA Today, The Daily Beast, US News & World Report, Forbes and many other magazines, newspapers, and websites. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Fields: Political History, the American Revolution, the Market Revolution, the Market Revolution, Voting Rights and Democracy, Populism and the Progressives, the Gilded Age

Dissertation: Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine: The Shared Political Ideology at the Heart of American Democracy

Faculty Advisors: Gautham Rao

Education: BA in Political Science and BS in Journalism (Boston University), MA in Public Administration, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government


Paul Kutner

Paul Kutner is originally from New York City. He completed his BSFS in international politics at Georgetown University and his MA in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University. His master's thesis argued that the separation of church and state and the emancipation of French Protestants enabled them to build a physical infrastructure in the 19th and early 20th centuries that facilitated large-scale rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. Paul is interested in the role of other religions during the Holocaust and the release of the Vatican archives pertaining to the Holocaust era. 

Field: Holocaust Studies, Modern Jewish History, French History, European History, Religious history

Faculty Advisor: Lisa Leff

Education: BSFS, international politics, Georgetown University (2004); MA, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Yeshiva University (2023)

Research Interests: French Jewry, the French Resistance, the Second World War, Holocaust Rescue, the Righteous Among the Nations, Antisemitism, National Identity and Citizenship, Memory, Holocaust Distortion and Denial


Jack Meloro

Jack Meloro is a first-year PhD student from Allendale, New Jersey and received his BA from the University of Notre Dame in History and International Economics (’20). After spending three years working on rare disease policy at the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases, he came to AU to continue research into modern Europe, specializing in twentieth-century Spain. He has researched topics including fascist propaganda during the Spanish Civil War, economic policy in the 1950s, and the sociopolitical nature of soccer in Spain. He hopes to further explore Spain’s relationship to Western Europe through a cultural and political lens. In his free time, Jack enjoys playing and watching sports, cooking, and watching movies.

Faculty Advisor: Laura Beers

Education: BA, University of Notre Dame, History and International Economics, 2020

Research Interests: 20th-Century Spain, Fascism, Memory Studies, Cultural History


Mallory Needleman

Field: US Foreign Relations, Intelligence Studies, and Forced Migration

Dissertation: Interpreting the Cold War through a Lithuanian Hot Zone

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Anton Fedyashin

Education: MA, Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel; BA, History, International Studies at Flagler College in St. Augustine Florida

Research Interests: Lithuania, Intelligence, Cold War, Holocaust, American Foreign Relations, Holocaust Memory, National Identity


Nathan Pavalko

Nathan Pavalko is from Youngstown, Ohio. He graduated from Youngstown State University with his BA (2007) and MA (2009) in history.

For the past decade he taught at community colleges in both Indiana and Tennessee.

At AU his focus is on discrimination in the National School Lunch Program. His core question is whether segregated black schools were fed different food. He will also look at how communities of color compensated for lack of funding and food. Nathan also enjoys reading, painting, cooking, and spending time with his wife and daughter.


Maurizio Recordati

Hi! I am a historian of strategic thought. During my Ph.D. program, I have specialized in Modern European History, Russian History, and Grand Strategy. Lately, I have taken an interest in Critical Geopolitics to study the making of geopolitical discourse in the Italian public debate, with a particular interest in the coverage of the war on Ukraine. 

My dissertation treats the intellectual history of grand strategy—its epistemology, ontology, writing methods, and pedagogy. My research has won The Strategy Bridge’s 2020 Writing Contest, with a paper titled “Towards an Epistemology of Grand Strategy” and the 2022 Trench Gascoigne Prize (Royal United Services Institute) with an article titled “The Stuff of Strategy: How Sublime Strategics Turned into a Real Thing,” which was published on The RUSI Journal.

I hold an MA in Russian and Eurasian Studies from the European University in St. Petersburg and a BA in History from the University of Milan. I am a 2022-23 Hans J. Morgenthau Fellow in grand strategy at the Notre Dame International Security Center. Before my time in the US, I served as the Director of an international MA program in Energy Politics in Eurasia and as a lecturer in World Oil and Gas Affairs. I have also spent a few years interning and working in the European institutions (Parliament and Council of the EU), where I focused on EU-Russia energy relations.

Erin Russell

Field: Early America, Atlantic World, Gender, Material Culture, Archival Culture

Faculty Advisor: Kate Haulman


Andrew Sperling

Field: American Jewish history, US History Since 1865

Dissertation: American Jews Against Antisemitism

Faculty Advisor: Pamela S. Nadell

Education: MA, History, North Carolina State University; BA, English, North Carolina State University

Research Interests: American Jewish history, the history of antisemitism, extremist groups, Jewish politics, Jewish refugees in America


Alison Tenenbaum

Alison is a Washington D.C. native who attended Ithaca College as an undergraduate, earning her B.A. in History with a minor in Italian. In her doctoral studies her research will focus on culinary history in modern America, with a focus on Prohibition and the Great Depression. Outside of her studies, she enjoys knitting, crocheting, playing indie video games, Dungeons and Dragons, and, most of all, cooking for her friends and family.

Field: Modern American History, Food/Culinary History

Faculty Advisors: Katharina Vester

Education: BA History Ithaca College '10

Research Interests: Modern American History, Food History, Material Culture, Women's History, Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Prohibition, Great Depression


Alexandra Zaremba Panić

Alexandra Zaremba Panić is a historian of Modern Europe and the former Yugoslavia. Her dissertation reassesses the development of memory culture in socialist Yugoslavia after 1945 in light of popular culture, the emergence of Holocaust remembrance discourse, decentralization and non-alignment, international influences, and other factors. Because of her background in Public History, Alexandra is keen to apply the methods of this field in her research and contribute to the history of public history in the region. She is a member of the International Federation of Public History and helped found its Student and Early Career Working Group in 2020.

Field: Modern European History, Balkan History, and Public History

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Andrew Demshuk, Dr. MJ Rymsza-Pawłowska 

Education: MA Public History Duquesne University ’17, BA History University of South Florida ’15.

Research Interests: Nationalism, Culture, Museums and Commemoration, Memory, the Holocaust, forced migration and mass violence, and the Balkans.