September 4, 2017 at 6:49 pm

History’s Mattson Researches New Book on American Punk

Dr. Kevin Mattson, standing in front of a brick wall

Dr. Kevin Mattson

Dr. Kevin Mattson, Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History, spent the 2016-17 academic year on an Ohio University Faculty Fellowship Leave.

During this time, Mattson’s main focus was his newest book project: an intellectual and social history of American punk, especially during the first part of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, 1980-85. According to Mattson, the project portrays American punk “as a serious and overlooked counterculture that went to the roots of what’s wrong with U.S. consumer culture.”

Mattson’s research involved archival visits and oral interviews. During his leave, he visited numerous repositories, including both university libraries such as those at Cornell University, the University of Maryland, and Bowling Green State, as well as public libraries such as the Washington, D.C., Public Library, the New York State Library in Albany, and the San Francisco Public Library. When asked about conducting oral history interviews, Mattson explained that he holds off to do them until the last moment. While finding them useful, he is also suspicious of “memory,” including his own.

Beyond his most recent book project, Mattson continues to be active as a public intellectual. Media outlets have regularly sought him out for historical perspective and contemporary commentary, including the New York Times, the New Republic, and C-Span. He has published at least 15 short- and long-form essays during this past year. They span a range of issues, but focus on the various presidential campaigns, the subsequent presidency of Donald Trump, and issues that have taken center stage in public debate.

When asked about his motivation for such public engagement, Mattson asserts that “we [as academics] have a very crucial role to play in civic discussions that reside outside that halls of academe.” He views higher education as under attack, which Mattson thinks “makes our role as public actors who can inform and hopefully elevate debate even more crucial than ever.” For him, academics are “both experts and citizens who have a moral obligation to communicate our ideas to others.”

Mattson, however, is wary of academics speaking as experts on topics that do not fall within their purview. He very often declines interview requests with media outlets if he thinks they are after something that he has no grounding or expertise in. “This is especially true during campaigns,” he stresses.

Some of the articles Mattson has published during the past academic year include:

Read more about Mattson’s research and teaching interests on his History Department web page.

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