Featuring 2017 Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award recipient James Pula
Professor of History James Pula, who has served our university since 2004, is among three PNW Outstanding Faculty Award recipients announced during Founders Day festivities, March 6. In a Q&A profile, Dr. Pula shares his thoughts on faculty scholarship:
Q: What are your primary areas of scholarly activity? What triggered these interests?
JP: My primary area of research has been in immigration and ethnic studies. Most has focused on the Polish diaspora in the U.S., but I have published articles on the French, Germans, Italians, Asians, and Hispanics, as well as some comparative work.
I grew up in a small community in Upstate New York that emerged around a textile manufacturing business in the early 1800s. During the 20th century it employed mostly Poles, Italians, Syro-Lebanese and French-Canadians, so early in my life I became aware that there were different groups of people with different traditions and religious beliefs – there were Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Dutch Reformed churches in our small village of only 3,500 people.
In nearby Utica there was also great ethnic diversity including Irish, German, and African communities. As I grew up I enjoyed attending the different ethnic festivals and I suppose this interest (along with my obsession with ethnic foods!) helped to shape what I have pursued as a scholar.
Q: You earned the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 2014 in recognition of your “scholarship, your research on the history of Poland, the promotion of the Polish culture and service for the Polish diaspora and Poles abroad.” Please discuss some of the work you have done that this award recognizes.
JP: I have been engaged in research for well over 40 years, and the recognition from the Polish government was for my contributions over time rather than a single publication. I authored more than a dozen books, most dealing with the Polish diaspora, and edited more than a dozen others including The Polish American Encyclopedia cited by the research librarians association as an “essential” reference work.
Some of my authored works that have been recognized are biographies of Revolutionary War leader Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Civil War general Wladimir Krzyzanowski, Polish Americans: An Ethnic Community (part of Macmillan’s Immigrant Heritage of America Series), and an analysis of the development of an ethnic labor union and strikes in my hometown in 1912 and 1916. I have also published dozens of articles and made presentations at conferences in the United States, Poland, Canada, and France.
Q: What is the focus of your current research or projects?
JP: Recently, I had an article accepted for publication in Europe that compares Mexican immigration in 2010 with the two largest groups in 1910, Italians and Poles. Based on data from the U.S. census and immigration reports and from other studies, I argue that the current wave of immigration is not “unprecedented” as one often hears in the media and that Mexican immigrants today are actually assimilating faster than the immigrants of a century ago.
I am completing work on a book contract for a volume of immigration documents, with commentary and explanations that will be designed for classroom use. It will include sections containing primary sources authored by immigrants themselves, anti-immigrant material, federal laws, and Supreme Court decisions from the colonial era through 2016.
Q: How do you bring these interests and your vast body of knowledge into the classroom?
JP: I teach the course, U.S. Ethnic and Immigration History, which of course, fits perfectly with my primary area of research. But the introductory U.S. history courses – HIST 151 and HIST 152 – also cover periods of large immigration, so I am able to use my research there and in one of the other upper level courses I often teach, HIST 467 (The Emergence of Modern America).
Immigration has been consistent through U.S. history, studying it provides a breadth of background that informs every course that I teach.
Q: How do you engage your students in scholarly activities?
JP: I assign research papers and work with students on these, including offering to review and critique their drafts before their final submissions. I spend time in class discussing research, the availability of resources, and how to support arguments with evidence.
I believe experiential options provide excellent teaching opportunities…I have taken students on study trips, and one of my current students is working on a project to catalog and digitize archives in the Barker Mansion. In the fall I expect that he will continue this work, and I have plans to engage at least two history students in a writing project.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
JP: Seeing students succeed.