Backward Glances
Whether obtained from musical theatre or academia, college professor stresses significance of history
Monday, April 3, 2017

Judith Giesberg '88, B.A. History and Education

Here's something not many people know about Judith "Judy" Giesberg: She knows all of the lyrics to nearly every song in the mega hit musical Hamilton. Not surprising given her love of history dating from her elementary school years.

The daughter of a U.S. serviceman, Judy grew up in Germany and Texas. She attended Trinity as a Brackenridge Scholar—a scholarship for high-achieving high school students to be trained as public school teachers. She found inspiration for the vocation in John Moore, professor emeritus of education, and never looked back. Choosing an academic discipline to teach was a no brainer. It would be history, of course.

Although her parents encouraged her to go into law, "Once I started taking history classes at Trinity, I was hooked." After courses with history professors Linda Salvucci, Char Miller, Gary Kates, John Martin, Linda Hall, and Terry Smart, "I knew I wanted to be a history professor. I wanted to do what they did."

After graduation, Judy taught history for two years at a San Antonio middle school and began taking graduate history courses at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Her first class, U.S. Reconstruction, led to her deep interest in the Civil War and its aftermath. She moved to Boston and began graduate studies at Boston College. During her first year, she applied for and was admitted to the Ph.D. program in history and has been teaching at the college level ever since, noting, "I have never considered doing anything else."

As a history professor and director of the graduate program at Villanova University in Villanova, Penn., Judy teaches classes on U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction, History of Slavery, and Women's History. She is also responsible for recruiting and advising graduate students.

Brimming with passion for her discipline, Judy says, "I feel strongly that our good citizenship depends on knowing our history. We need the guidance and leadership of historically minded people to successfully navigate the ship of state. I worry that Americans have too little knowledge and appreciation of history."

Totally immersed in campus life at Villanova, Judy serves on her fair share of committees but prefers those that support and promote students and faculty. One that was especially meaningful to her was Villanova's Committee on the Status of Women. Meeting over a several year period, the committee produced an important report about meeting the needs of female faculty and addressing gender imbalances. Additionally, Judy is the Editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era, the official journal of the Society of Civil War Historians. She is proud of her work publishing the best scholarship of established scholars and nurturing the work of the next generation of historians of the period.

Being a successful professor requires ongoing research and scholarship, and Judy believes that "the most rewarding historical research takes place alongside our students." She is particularly proud of three research and digital projects she produced with her graduate students. The Emilie Davis Diaries project involved transcribing and annotating the diaries of a young African-American woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Students involved in her Information Wanted Ad project are identifying and transcribing newspaper advertisements taken out by former slaves searching for family members lost during slavery. The Institute for Colored Youth project explored the history of Philadelphia's premier school for African-Americans in the nineteenth century from the perspective of its first 40 graduates, who went on to distinguished careers as teachers in black schools in the North, foreign diplomats, and civil rights activists. In 2013, Judy was honored with Villanova's prestigious Tolle Lege Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Outside academia, Judy enjoys an active life. Her husband, Edward Fierros— whom she met while she was at Trinity and he was at UTSA—is equally immersed in education. (He chairs Villanova's Department of Education and Counseling.) They have three children; the eldest is a sophomore at Princeton. Judy and her family are involved with their local Temple Sholom in Broomall, Pa., and volunteer regularly with homeless families through Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Bryn Mawr. When time permits, the family enjoys swimming, bicycling, snow tubing, and "finding faster and better roller coasters." Other than grading papers, Judy says, "I feel incredibly fortunate to get to do something I love every day."

You may contact Judy at Judith.giesberg@villanova.edu

Mary Denny helps tell Trinity's story as a contributor to the University communications team.

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