M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska

2023 Humanties Scholar in Residence

Meet M.J.

M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Graduate Program in Public History at American University, where she researches and teaches on historiography, public history theory and method, the history of museums, and local history. She is the author ofHistory Comes Alive: Public History and Popular Culture in the 1970s, (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), as well as articles that have been published inASAP/Journal,Film & History,The Public HistoriantheJournal of Popular Film and Television,andWashington Post. M.J. is also an active public historian, working with American University’s Humanities Truck on several collaborative initiatives, and helping to organize the annual D.C. History Conference. M.J.’s other public facing work includes serving on the editorial board ofWashington History Magazine, as well as advisory boards for the DC History Center, the Humanities Truck, and the Board of Directors of Humanities DC, and as series editor for the National Park Service and National Council on Public History’s 2021-2025 American Revolution 250th Commemoration Scholars' Forums. She earned a doctorate in American Studies from Brown University, as well as M.A. degrees from Brown in Public Humanities and Georgetown University in Communication, Culture, and Technology.

M.J.'s Project

Going to Washington: A History of Tourists, Officials, Activists, and Militia in the Nation’s Capitalis an interdisciplinary narrative history that analyzes multimedia (textual, visual, film) published and archival accounts to interrogate the history of visits to Washington, D.C.--both real and fictional. I examine the ways that we understand the city, how expectations and assumptions are reinforced and challenged through experience, and, above all, how visits to Washington help reflect and construct our notions of the nation, on one hand, and citizenship, on the other.From its founding in the late 18c, Washington, D.C. has occupied an outsized and symbolic space in the national imagination and in cultural representation, no less so now as we continue struggle to understand the events of January 6th. Washington is the physical manifestation of the nation and its history: where decisions have been made and change has been effected. People who come to the city do so with purpose in mind: as appointed or elected officials determined to make an impact, as activists fighting for recognition, tourists making a pilgrimage to the nation’s capital, or as part of an occupying force. I examine the way that representations and impressions of the city shift as the city itself changes. My book, the first on this topic, will resonate with historians and scholars of national identity and citizenship, of travel and tourism, and place and space. As importantly, I hope that it will appeal to the general reader, and serve as the foundation for collaborative public-facing curatorial and outreach projects.