Interviews: Meet the BHC Officers, and Over the Counter interview series

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In the last Meet the Officers series published as part of the Over the Counter newsletter of the Business History Conference we published the following edited interviews with business historians who have been involved in the administration of the association:

Roger Horowitz [p.3, no 56 newsletter]

Peter A. Coclanis [p.3, no. 57 newsletter]

Laura S. Phillips [p. 5, no. 58 newsletter

Benjamin Waterhouse [p. 3, no. 59 newsletter]

Alexia Yates [p. 2, no. 60 newsletter]

Heidi Tworek [p. 2, no. 61 newsletter]

We now bring you a new set of interviews with officers. In this issue, we feature Jennifer M. Black, who has been a member of the BHC for almost a decade and has served many roles. The next publication will spotlight Ai Hisano, who just ended her term as Trustee of the Business History Conference.

Interview by Paula de la Cruz-Fernández, Web Editor of the BHC.

Jennifer M. Black is Associate Professor of History and Government at Misericordia University. She currently serves on the BHC’s Board of Trustees, as part of the Electronic Media Oversight Committee, and was recently involved in the Ad-hoc committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Dr. Black has been a member of the BHC since 2013. Columbus (OH) was her first conference, and she tells me that since then, being part of the association has helped her connect with a great community of scholars. She finds that the association is “a relatively small and close-knit community”, and there is always someone who is “very generous and encouraging,” and ready to  support emerging scholars' work. It was Pamela Walker Laird, Wendy Woloson, and Sharon Murphy, she mentions, who greatly shaped her thinking while working on her forthcoming book, Branding Trust: Advertising and Trademarks in the Nineteenth-Century United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, expected in 2023), even when she thought her focus on material culture may not connect as well with business history. “After that first meeting, Andrew [Popp] approached me and asked me to consider submitting my paper to Enterprise and Society.” That conversation introduced Dr. Black to Murphy, whose feedback prompted Black to return to the archive to expand the project. The Women-in-Business-History lunch provided another opportunity to engage the BHC’s community of scholars. As Black notes, “I met Vicki Howard first, who is wonderful and invited me to come to the Women in Business history lunch, where I was seated next to Pam Laird, [...] I got to meet Mary Yeager and Barbara Hahn and all these wonderful senior scholars who were very encouraging and very enthusiastic about the work that I was doing.” Today, she notes, “I feel like this is my institutional home.”

Dr. Black has been involved in the BHC’s administration and governance for many years as well. Building community has been a focus of the Trustees for at least the past three years. As Black notes, “we wanted new people attending the conference to come back the next year. A lot of times students have one chapter on business history in their dissertations and that could mean that they only workshop that one chapter with us.” . While this brings much diversity to the community, the membership is always shifting. As Black indicated, “we also want them to stay” – Black states.

The first BHC committee for Dr. Black was the Emerging Scholars Committee. She became part of it in 2015 and worked with Dr. Susan Spellman (then chair of the committee), to launch the Emerging Scholars breakfast at the 2017 conference. For this first event, Drs. Black and Spellman also ordered “Emerging Scholar” pins for conference newcomers, which they hoped would help initiate conversations with more established scholars or others who could support their work. Looking back on the ESC, Dr. Black noted that it was “the perfect kind of service: relatively easy yet deeply fruitful work.” The ESC gave Black the opportunity work closely with both senior scholars (such as Mark Rose, who advised the committee for several years) as well as other junior scholars in the field (such as Eric Hintz, who was Black’s co-chair for the 2018 meeting). Check out the first fliers from the Emerging Scholars Committee and the button that emerging scholars wore at the meeting:

Networking hour, from 2017

Emerging Scholars’ Networking Hour


Dr. Black was elected to the Board of Trustees at the 2020 meeting in Charlotte, and joined the Electronic Media Oversight Committee. Appointed by the BHC President, this committee is charged to oversee the BHC's Web presence. It works with the BHC’s Web Administrator and the Web Editor to support changes and improvements to the association’s website. The committee also oversees H-Business, the BHC’s H-Net list. Last year, she was appointed by President Andrea Lluch to join the Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which worked to create a DEI statement and a new committee for the organization. Dr. Black was “excited to see the organization tackling these kinds of challenging problems” in academia right now. She added, “I think it's an important next step for us to continue to foster diversity in the organization.”

2023 is Dr. Black’s last year as a Trustee. Reflecting on her experiences with the organization, she notes that she has been proud to serve the BHC and is grateful for the opportunity to engage such a dedicated and thoughtful group of scholars. “I’m so glad I decided to join the BHC, even though I didn’t become a member until my last year of graduate school. Both my career and my research have benefited tremendously from the conversations had during and after the conference,” she said, adding, “it’s been perhaps one of the best decisions of my career. I can honestly say that my book wouldn’t be where it is without the BHC.” . To new members of the BHC, Dr. Black says “don’t be afraid to get involved, and don’t shy away from opportunities. You never know how one opportunity could be a stepping stone to the next.  I didn’t know anyone going into that first meeting, but I made a conscious choice to try to network (as they do in business, right?). Instead of avoiding social gatherings, or finding the group of grad students in the corner, I joined conversations with new people. At one of the sessions that year, Wendy Woloson chaired a panel on business history outside of the academy, and she encouraged the audience to be open to opportunity. That was an important piece of advice for me, and it guided much of my work for the next several years. I’m grateful for the small successes I’ve had, and I owe a lot to the advice and encouragement of members of the BHC.”