Sunday, March 31, 2013

Author Discovery: Ken Cmiel

Ken Cmiel was a highly respected professor of history and American studies and served as director of the University of Iowa's Center for Human Rights. He held degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago. His academic interests included popular music, human rights, and the use of language in democracy. He passed away in 2006.

One of his many obituaries quoted him as having given this advice to young scholars and professors:

"Teach classes that are meaningful to you and that engage that portion of your students that are reachable. Ignore, in other words, the very idea of professional wisdom. Only write what you want to write. Once you have job security (which I know is a huge barrier) don't write if you don't want to. Write for media directed at non-historians, whether that be the local newspaper or fancy national magazines. Write for other academic disciplines. Explore other media than the printed word. Ignoring what the profession rewards might very well be a mark of sanity at the close of the 30th century." (From

His papers are held at the University of Iowa Library's Special Collections and University Archives, which includes an unfinished book on human rights in the United States.



  • Democratic eloquence: The fight of popular speech in nineteenth-century AmericaUniversity of California Press, 1991.
  • A home of another kind: One Chicago orphanage and the tangle of child welfare. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Selected Articles
  • "After objectivity: What comes next in history?." American Literary History 2.1 (1990): 170-181.
  • Durham Peters and Cmiel. "Media ethics and the public sphere." Communcation 12.3 (1991): 197-215.
  • "A broad fluid language of democracy: Discovery the American idiom." The Journal of American History 79.3 (1992): 913-936.
  • "Destiny and amnesia: The vision of modernity and Robert Weibe's The Search for Order." Reviews in American History 21.2 (1993): 352-368.
  • "History against itself." The Journal of American History 81.3 (1994): 1169-1174.
  • "On cynicism, evil, and the discovery of communication in the 1940s." Journal of Communication 46.3 (1996): 88-107.
  • "The fate of the nation and the withering of the state." American Literary History 8.1 (1996): 184-202.
  • "The emergence of human rights politics in the United States." The Journal of American History  86.3 (1999): 1231-1250.
  • "The recent history of human rights." The American Historical Review 109.1 (2004): 117-135.

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