Department of History and Geography

Faculty Research and Specialties


Dr. Honglin Xiao
Associate Professor of Geography and Coordinator of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) minor

"I have two main research interests: One entails the analysis of land use change and human impact on the environment using quantitative methods from remote sensing, GIS and physical geography; the other involves the construction of high-resolution records of the environment and human activities over the past several thousand years from geomorphic sediments, gazetteers, satellite images and aerial photos. This research mainly attempts to verify whether proxy records of climate obtained from Quaternary sediments, especially cave speleothems, are a reliable source of paleoclimatic data. A secondary objective is to determine what information cave stalagmites retain about human activities above the cave. My regional interest is Asia, especially China."


Dr. Brian Digre
Professor of History and Coordinator of the International Studies Major

"The recent focus of my historical research has been on West African independence. Studying political developments in Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and Nigeria during the 1950s and early 1960s, I have sought to explain the interplay of ethnic loyalties and national interests in creating new African states and resolving border disputes. My primary sources include African newspapers, United Nations documents and records in British and French archives. My 2004 article “The United Nations, France and African Independence: A Case Study of Togo” illustrates the valuable role of the United Nations in providing oversight for pre-independence elections. During 2007, I expanded my geographic focus, examining the politics of independence in the Southern Sudan for a paper presented at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association."

Dr. Heidi G. Frontani
Professor of Geography; 2010 Periclean Scholars Faculty Mentor

"I am a geographer in the nature-society tradition, and my research has examined the relationship between park management approach and conservation effect, particularly the extent to which participatory, ‘bottom-up’ co-management can not only protect biodiversity but also local people’s livelihoods. Most of my publications have been based on ethnographic field research in communities living near marine-protected areas in Kenya (for which I learned Swahili), the United States and Canada. Most recently, I have used memoirs and newspapers for non-field-based people-environment studies and sought out exceptional students with shared research interests for mentoring; their research has appeared in Jewish Quarterly, Geographical Bulletin and South African Geographical Journal."


Dr. Mike Carignan
Associate Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Honors Program

"As a modern cultural and intellectual historian, I am interested in the emergence of new ideas in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I like to write about the ways in which Europeans began to see themselves, their values and their beliefs as historical phenomena (i.e., as potentially temporary). I am also intensely interested in the ways they represented the experience of this new, historical consciousness. Much of my scholarship has been about Victorian novelist George Eliot and her attempts to craft historical fiction in a vein that contributed to broad philosophical developments about the nature of historical knowledge and what some have called the 'crisis of historicism.'"

Dr. Hui-Hua Chang
Associate Professor of History

"My research interest is in the social and cultural history of the Classical world. I have been studying the social status of medical practitioners in Ancient Greece and their adoption of rational medical theories for the purpose of social advancement. I have found the connection between their scientific theories and contemporary natural philosophy (a popular elite pursuit) particularly interesting. In my future projects, I would like to explore the rise of preventive medicine and health practices in response to the formation of new elites in a world of political and social changes by taking a comparative approach, comparing the Greco-Roman world with China in transition from the Warring States to the Chin Empire."

Latin America and the Caribbean

Dr. Amy Johnson
Assistant Professor of History
“With an overarching focus on comparative slavery and resistance, my research takes me all over the Atlantic World. My interests include Pre-colonial West African history, Early Colonial Caribbean history, and the Atlantic Slave Trade. My current research examines the role that slavery in their African communities played in shaping slave resistance among African-born peoples enslaved in the Americas from the seventeenth into the early nineteenth century."


Dr. Michael Matthews
Assistant Professor of History

"While my research and teaching interests lie in the broader field of Latin American history, my main focus is on Mexico, especially the social and cultural history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in how the Utopian promises offered by new technologies such as railways shaped the symbolic, ceremonial, rhetorical and artistic expressions of various social groups in their attempts to bolster or challenge the rule of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911). In this way, my research tackles wide-ranging issues regarding the diverse ways that different social groups understood and interpreted the often elusive concepts of civilization,  progress, and modernity."

North America

Dr. Jim Bissett
Professor of History

"As a social historian, I am especially interested in studying American history from the bottom up. In my research, I concentrate on social movements, particularly those associated with late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century American radicalism, especially Populism, American socialism and the labor movement. My work in that field produced a book, Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside,1904-1920. I am also interested in the civil rights movement and oral history, and I'm now working on the topic of race relations in Alamance County, N.C., during the Civil Rights era."

Dr. Rod Clare
Associate Professor of History

"My interests lie in studying post-Civil War North American history. Within this, my focus is in researching and understanding the dynamics between groups struggling for equality or power and those groups or organizations with authority. I have various sub-fields within this context. They include African-American history, U.S. foreign policy, American social history, U.S. women's history, as well as Canadian-U.S. relations. So far, my scholarly work has concentrated on two fields: One is the history of African Americans in the South during segregation; the other is studying women's voluntary organizations their internal dynamics, their stated purposes and their effectiveness over time."

Dr. Charles Irons
Associate Professor of History; Chair, Department of History and Geography

"I have a particular interest in the relationship between the religious decisions of enslaved and free blacks and the pronouncements of white divines on slavery. I have focused most of my research on Virginia and how the interactions between blacks and whites in ecclesiastical settings shaped white actions in more public venues. In the course of this work, I have become interested in those black Southerners who decided to affiliate with white Southerners despite the censure of their peers. This group includes slaves who did not flee during the Civil War   despite proximity to Union lines and black evangelicals who remained members of biracial churches for many years after emancipation."

Dr. Clyde Ellis
Professor of History and University Distinguished Scholar

"My research focuses on understanding how and with what consequences Southern Plains American Indian communities have negotiated the changing contours of ethnic and cultural identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I've published extensively on boarding schools, Christianity and powwow culture in an effort to examine how traditional practices and values have been maintained even in the face of far-reaching change and accommodation. I'm currently writing a book on the history of Americans' fascination with Indian lore and culture, and have begun preliminary work on a comprehensive history of North Carolina's Indian people."

Dr. Peter Felten
Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning

"I am trained as a political and social historian, focusing on the twentieth-century United States and Caribbean histor. I am particularly interested in questions about race, religion and social change in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the past few years, my research has concentrated on inquiries into how people learn history. My most recent research considers both how people learn from visual primary sources, such as photographs, and also how certain social pedagogies affect students."


Dr. Mary Jo Festle
Professor of History

"I have been very interested in studying the history of social change in the United States, especially in the twentieth century. As an undergraduate, I researched working women in Chicago and their struggles for equality. For my master's thesis, I studied SNCC and the black movement for justice in the 1960s. For my doctoral research I combined my interests in race, class, gender, sexuality and popular culture, resulting in a book on women's sports since 1950. More recently, I've become very interested in oral history and have begun a project on the history of lung transplantation."

Dr. Ryan Kirk
Assistant Professor of Geography

"I am an environmental geographer interested in applying modern technologies and spatial analysis tools to the study of human-environment interactions at local-to-regional scales. Recent research projects have included land use change analysis in the Southern Appalachian Mountains since the Antebellum period, carbon cycle modeling of Minnesota and western North Carolina forest ecosystems, and development of geospatial databases for National Wildlife Refuge conservation planning. The primary technologies I use are GIS, GPS, remote sensing,  and integrated programming of spatial and statistical models. I greatly enjoy collaborative research and am always interested in exploring new applications for applying these tools."

Dr. Nancy Midgette
Professor of History

“My research interests include Southern History and the American Civil War and I have published in both fields. I teach American Military History, have directed student research in this area, and have taken students to battlefields from Georgia and Pennsylvania to Normandy, France. From 2000-2010, I served in administrative capacities at Elon, including Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Interim Director of Career Services, and Associate Provost and I worked with others to ensure that Elon remains in the forefront of private higher education. Recently, I have turned my attention to using the discipline of History to develop case studies for Leadership Studies courses.”