Benjamin Cawthra, Ph.D.
Professor of History
Benjamin Cawthra is a U.S. cultural and public historian. His book Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz (University of Chicago Press, 2011) examines the evolving representation of jazz subjects from the swing era of the 1930s to the black nationalist 1960s. He has also published recent essays on musician Duke Ellington (2016) and boxer Jack Johnson (2019). He is an associate director of the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History and has directed several history exhibitions for the Center, including New Birth of Freedom: Civil War to Civil Rights in California (2011) and Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club featuring the photography of Kathy Sloane (2015). He also curated and wrote the catalog for Herb Snitzer: Photographs from the Last Years of Metronome (Sheldon Art Galleries, 2008).
As a public historian at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, he curated, among other exhibitions, Miles: A Miles Davis Retrospective (2001). He later served as an on-camera consultant for the documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson, 2019). He received the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Fellowship in American Art among other awards. He has led several tours to Italy in the CSUF College of Humanities and Social Sciences Study Abroad program. A native of Washington state, Dr. Cawthra enjoys photography, literary fiction, live music, theater, and classic and independent film. He maintains a blog at www.bluenotesinblackandwhite.com.
2007 Ph.D. History, Washington University in St. Louis
1996 M.A. History, Washington University in St. Louis
1989 B.A. English, History, Walla Walla College
Twentieth-century United States cultural history; visual history; U.S.-Italian cultural interaction; African American history and culture.
Courses Regularly Taught
HIST 506 Seminar in Public History
HIST 490T Senior Research Seminar: World War II Home Front in Southern California
HIST 475B The United States, 1920-1960
HIST 405 Visual History
HIST 402A Introduction to Public History
HIST 394 American Civil War
HIST 375 The Great Depression
HIST 340 Americans in Italy
HONR 302T Honors Seminar in Arts and Humanities: Jazz and American Culture
HIST 180 Survey of American History
Grants & Special Projects
Current Research Projects:
Dr. Cawthra’s current research projects include The Redemptive Lens: The Image of Italy in War and Peace, in which he explores the work of photographers and filmmakers whose images collectively envisioned a post-fascist Italy worthy of the West’s renewed attention and commitment. The work analyzes the production and dissemination of a refurbished image of Italy beginning during the war itself, when Fascist Italy had become an international cultural pariah due to its alliance with Nazi Germany. The Allied invasion and liberation of Italy and the massive economic investment in the country’s recovery positioned Italy as a founding NATO and Common Market member, a positioning anticipated by and reflected in contemporary photojournalism and film.