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Leading Liberal Arts Pedagogy, Research Institute Selects MC History Faculty for Seminar Series

Dr. Christian Pinnen, associate professor of history and political science at Mississippi College, has been selected to participate in the prestigious Bright Institute at Knox College.
Dr. Christian Pinnen, associate professor of history and political science at Mississippi College, has been selected to participate in the prestigious Bright Institute at Knox College.

An associate professor of history at Mississippi College has been chosen for a prestigious program that supports the teaching and research efforts of professors of American history before 1848 at small liberal arts colleges across the United States.

Dr. Christian Pinnen will be one of a select dozen participants in the second cohort of the Bright Institute at Knox College. His research focuses on the American borderlands and the legal landscapes that gave rise to definitions of blackness and whiteness in the face of maturing slave societies, specifically in the colonial Natchez District.

Cohort members will attend two-week, in-residence seminars each summer for three years on the campus at Knox, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois. They will also receive $3,000 in unrestricted research support during each year of the seminar, as well as travel, lodging, and other expenses.

Dr. Catherine J. Denial, Bright Distinguished Professor of American History, chair of the History Department, and director of the Bright Institute at Knox College, said Pinnen’s scholarly pursuits and pedagogical approach to teaching the early American past made him a natural fit for the program.

“Dr. Pinnen has proved himself a vital voice in early American history with the publication of both his books,” said Denial, referring to “Complexion of Empire: The Development of Slavery in the Natchez District, 1720-1820,” and “Colonial Mississippi: A Borrowed Land,” co-authored with Charles Weeks. “Dr. Pinnen’s project to expand our understanding of slavery in the Spanish borderlands, and his work to establish a new National Parks Service site at the Natchez Forks of the Road Slave Market, make him a valuable addition to this cohort.

“With support from the Bright Institute, we hope that each fellow in this cohort will make a major contribution to broadening the number of voices which reach us from the past.”

Pinnen said he relishes the opportunity to join colleagues from across the country from July 25 to Aug. 5 in the intensive summer seminar on cutting-edge scholarship from the historical period.

“It’s very humbling because these are colleagues who have been prolific teachers and scholars,” Pinnen said. “They are at the top of their game, both in terms of pedagogy and research. I’m quite happy I get to go and chat with them and read and learn alongside them.

“They’re coming from across the country, so all of them will have different techniques for teaching students. I’m looking forward to learning from their experiences, and I hope to contribute to them as well.”

A native of Bonn, Pinnen received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cologne, Germany. He obtained his master’s in history in 2008 and his doctorate in 2012 from the University of Southern Mississippi. He began teaching at MC in 2012.

Recipient of the 2017 Pitman Young Faculty Award and the 2020 Humanities Teacher Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council on the Clinton campus, Pinnen is well-regarded in his field. He teaches U.S. history, history of the Old South, Latin American survey, the American Revolution, and American slavery.

Denial said the impetus to create the Bright Institute came from the recognition that history professors at small liberal arts colleges rarely have the same amount of time or resources to devote to research as their colleagues at larger institutions.

It’s a situation Pinnen knows all too well.

“Faculty at small liberal arts colleges have heavy teaching loads and heavy service loads, and it makes it pretty hard to keep up-to-date with the literature and to pursue research projects,” he said. “The Bright Institute is fantastic at giving you three years of professional development for classroom teaching, but also fosters a group of scholars who can work, read, and learn together and advance their research.”

Along with its invaluable research component, the Institute is deeply committed to teaching, Denial said.

“The Institute recognizes both things by providing the opportunity for fellows to take deep dives into new scholarship during our summer seminars and by spending a concentrated period considering the best ways to teach American history.”

That approach is what initially attracted Pinnen to the program.

“The combination of pedagogy and scholarship is something we at Mississippi College do well,” he said. “This is not just an update on the most current literature in my field of early American history, but it allows us to look at how we can bring that knowledge and diverse concepts of American history to the classroom more efficiently.”

As an example, he referenced his participation in MC’s new minor in African American Studies program that will be offered this fall.

“This will help me be more inclusive in my instruction – it will help show how I can be better informed with what my students learn in the classroom.”

Pinnen said the Institute’s research funding will provide a nice start to his next scholarly project.

“I would like to explore the Colonial Slave Trade in the lower Mississippi Valley more thoroughly,” he said. “I would be looking at Spanish and English sources, traveling to Mobile, Pensacola, St. Louis, Natchitoches, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge. I would be building on my earlier book and working with the National Parks Service to write the initial historical interpretation of the Natchez Forks of the Road Slave Market site.”

His top priority for participating in the Institute is to learn more about pedagogy and become an even better instructor.

“It’s really two sides of the same coin – being able to teach and leverage new pedagogical strategies, but also bring in current literature to widen the experience of students in the classroom. It’s going to be just invigorating intellectually.”

The Bright Institute at Knox College is supported through a trust established by Edwin W. Bright and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Hand Bright. Preference is given to faculty working with traditionally underserved research topics, including Native and Indigenous history, African American history, Latin history, and the history of women, gender, and sexuality.

Each year’s seminar is co-hosted by an eminent professor of American history before 1848 and a pedagogical consultant, each of whom help participants turn their research into inclusive classroom opportunities. The 2022 co-leaders will be Christian Ayne Crouch, author of “Nobility Lost: French and Canadian Martial Cultures, Indians, and the End of New France,” and Kevin Gannon, author of “Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto.”

Although only in its second cohort, Denial said the Bright Institute has already made a significant impact on scholarship, teaching, and research.

“The first cohort of Bright fellows, whose time with the program came to a close in 2021, secured several book contracts and published several articles and monographs in their time with the Institute,” she said. “They formed a generous and caring community who supported each other through thick and thin.”