'Gulf Coast Woman' Magazine Interview: Dr. Deanne Nuwer

Q: Tell us about your interest in history. When did it start, how did it develop, and what is your background/education?

Dr. Deanne Stephens NuwerA: My interest in history began at a young age when I used to listen to the stories that my grandparents and great aunts and uncles told me about their lives.  We visited them every summer in Kentucky and Indiana, and I was fascinated with hearing their stories about growing up on farms and all of the family stories. From that point, I began reading more history to understand the times they spoke of. In college, I majored in history because I wanted to learn about the events and people who shaped our country. I graduated from Biloxi High School and then on to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston campus. Eventually, after completing my bachelor's and master's degree in history, I graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Ph.D. in American History and a minor in English. I have also attended Mississippi State for additional classes, as well as William Carey University.

Q: Tell us about your career in history. What different types of jobs have you held and how is each different, yet serves a common purpose?

A: My professional career in history began at Ocean Springs Middle School where I taught history classes in the seventh and eighth grades. I worked on my Master's degree at night while teaching during the day. Through the years, I also taught at Kosciusko Middle School, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis Campus, William Carey University and Tulane. I have always taught, whether it was 12-year-olds or adults. Teaching is my passion. However, with my history background, I have also worked with the Mississippi Humanities Council on conducting oral histories, collaborated with various organizations in creating brochures highlighting certain historical sites or individuals, and created student guides about significant historical structures or cultures such as the Biloxi Lighthouse and the seafood industry along the Coast. I enjoy working with local historical societies and schools, such as the 4th grade Mississippi Studies Day at Popp's Ferry Elementary School. With my history degrees, I am able to design a wide array of opportunities regarding history and coordinate with talented people and students along the Coast. Regardless of which job I am involved in, the common thread is to create an appreciation for our shared histories.

Q: What is your favorite area of history and why?

A: My favorite area of history is nineteenth-century Southern history. Most of my research is in Mississippi history, so I appreciate our state's role in the overall development of the United States and the South. I also enjoy women's studies and medical history as each of these is a component of the broad themes in American history.

Q: What is the importance of history in a person's education?

A: History is an important element in any student's education process as it gives that person an infrastructure of knowledge to help understand the present. It is all integrally linked to all subjects. The study of history is not just the memorization of dates. It is the full 360 degree view of what happened on that particular date. For instance, where the event occurred is often an explanation as to why it happened. Who was involved in the event and more importantly, what was the result are also vital bits of information that completed the full view. When a student truly learns history, that person discovers an entire scenario, not just one component that often appears disjointed from the rest of the story.

Q: What is your greatest professional accomplishment? Personal accomplishment?

A: My greatest professional achievement rests in the many students whom I have taught. At the end of the semester when students tell me that they really learned history and enjoyed the class; that makes me smile. I am also proud that my manuscript, Plague Among the Magnolias: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi, was published. As a Mississippi resident and graduate of  Mississippi schools, I wanted to tell the story of this one Mississippi epidemic because of its tremendous impact on the state's development, socially, economically, and politically. Mississippi's history is both exciting and challenging, and this book outlines one disaster that many are unaware of.

As far as personal accomplishments, I am proud of my two daughters, Rachel and Amelia. Both of them are pursuing their dreams and are going to help others -- Rachel as an environmental journalist fighting for safe and better ecological solutions to world problems and Amelia as a veterinarian student who will one day help animal lovers and their pets.

Q: What factors have led to your success?

A: The factors that have led to my success are many. I am  fortunate to have loving parents, Nolena and Larry Stephens, who were and still are very supportive of me. My family's love and support have guided me through many challenges. I also have wonderful friends who support me in multiple way. Their strength has held me up in many a difficult situation. Additionally, my outstanding teachers and professors guided me in my academic pursuits and also administered good advice to a novice historian.

Q: What is your best advice for women?

A: The best advice that I can give to other women is not to give up. When I first entered the history field, I remember one department member that history is not a woman's field and that I should look at a different career. I was flabbergasted that such a statement was thought, much less uttered. It is not a cliche to follow your dream. Be strong and make a difference and do not let anyone dissuade you from pursuing your goals, no matter what they might be. Women today have choices because of pioneering women who came before us.

Q: Most people would be surprised if...

A: they knew who much I enjoy working in my yard.

Q: Is there anything else you wish to discuss that is of importance to you?

A: I think that it is important to recognize the unique culture that makes the Mississippi Gulf Coast and to pursue every effort to preserve it, whether it is a historic building, a spreading live oak tree, or a cultural event that defines who we are; we have to preserve what remains since Hurricane Katrina.