Emma Z. Rothberg, Ph.D.

Emma Z. Rothberg, Ph.D.

Emma Z. Rothberg, Ph.D.(ΦΒΚ, Wesleyan University) is the Associate Educator of Digital Learning & Innovation at the National Women’s History Museum. She previously served as the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Predoctoral Fellow in Gender Studies at NWHM and as the Co-Director of the Digital History Lab at UNC. Rothberg earned a B.A. in History from Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?

That is a really hard question. I took an upper-level seminar during my Junior year at Wesleyan called "Race, Knowledge, Justice," taught by Professor Demetrius Eudell. The course examined the relationship between the production of knowledge and discourses of race in three significant historical moments: the 16th-century expansion of Spain into the Americas, the 18th-century Enlightenment in Europe, and the post-Civil War US. What I found so transformative about the course was not only the subject matter and the careful attention Professor Eudell paid to his choice of readings, but also the conversations I had with my classmates. We got to talk about potential inherent biases and political agendas within the historical production of knowledge itself. It was also a class that first allowed me to discuss historiography (the study of historical writing), which prepared me well for the types of work and conversations I would have in graduate school. The course facilitated my thinking, writing, and discussing of history in a way I had not had the chance to before. It really helped inform who I was as a historian and confirmed my desire to pursue a doctorate.

What experiences gained through your liberal arts education have played a role in the development of your career and life after graduation?

My liberal arts education at Wesleyan, I believe, helped make me a well-rounded and curious individual. My courses in the History Department were amazing, but I also got to take a class on the history of film. That latter course introduced me to some of my favorite movies, like His Girl Friday, but it also continues to inform how I approach watching films today. Overall, I think my liberal arts education prepared me to be a more elastic thinker who wants to examine a topic or issue from multiple angles and recognizes there is not necessarily a "one size fits all" solution. I truly think of myself as a life-long learner, and I credit that to my liberal arts education.

You currently serve as the Associate Educator, Digital Learning & Innovation at the National Women's History Museum. What type of work do you focus on in this position?

As Associate Educator, Digital Learning & Innovation, I develop innovative learning resources and programming for the Museum's online platforms and provide history expertise through research, writing, digital delivery, virtual interactions, and online engagements. I also organize and host all our virtual programming for adult audiences, K-12 students, and educators. Virtual resources for K-12 audiences include virtual field trips, educator workshops, and an initiative to co-create lesson plans with teachers from across the country. I also manage the development and publication of online resources—like our Biographies Compendium, which tells the stories of dynamic American women—and exhibitions.

You recently participated in a Phi Beta Kappa virtual program where you talked about the  Museum's work. Do you have a favorite exhibit, or can you suggest one that you think deserves more attention?

I recently completed a virtual exhibition on Title IX and a history of women's access to higher education in the United States. It explores if education is truly equal and how advocates for Title IX, an amendment passed by the United States Congress to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive federal funding, hoped to make it so. You can see it here: https://www.womenshistory.org/exhibits/educational-equality-title-ix

Many of the Society’s associations continue to experiment with virtual events. Do you have suggestions for how to make digital programming more meaningful?

I think that people want to be in community with each other, particularly after the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few years. Digital programming needs to reflect that desire for that digital experience to be meaningful. Programs in which people sit and watch people talking are not as impactful now that audiences are seeking out opportunities to interact with each other in more personal and proximate ways. I try to focus on how I can allow people to be in community while in a digital space when planning digital programs.

Phi Beta Kappas motto is the love of learning is the guide of life,and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?

I'd love to re-learn how to play piano and speak another language! I played piano for ten years but stopped in high school; the same was true with French, which I took in middle and high school. I regret not continuing those skills and definitely want to find time to pick them back up.

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you? 

Oh, that's a hard question. I can't pinpoint a specific piece of advice that I still reflect on daily, but in 4th Grade, my school gave me a planner and taught me how to use it. I still use a paper planner to keep myself organized. "Use a planner" definitely ranks up there with some of the best advice I've ever received.

What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend? 

Oh books! I'm always reading. I just started a new non-fiction book by Henry Grabar that came out last year called Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World. It's an investigation of how the search for a parking spot has influenced American life, policies, and history. I'm an urban historian by training and a born-and-raised New Yorker, so I'm particularly interested in what this book will say about how the physical landscape I move through every day was shaped to accommodate cars. Before this book, I'd finished a few others, including John Williams's Augustus, which won the National Book Award in 1973. One of my favorite books is Williams's Stoner, so I wanted to read another one of his books. Augustus is an epistolary historical novel about Roman Emperor Augustus's path to power and reign. I don't usually read books about Ancient Rome, but Williams's use of language is beautiful. I also really appreciated how his characters talk about the different types of power they have in society and how they wield that power, particularly Augustus's daughter Julia. Even though the book was set in Ancient Rome and written in the early 1970s, the ways this female character talked about her (lack of) power as a woman still resonated.

Published on March 5, 2024.