Professor Katherine AikenWe would like to congratulate University of Idaho Professor Emeritus Katherine Aiken (WSU Department of History alumnus) on being named as the recipient of the prestigious 2020 Idaho State Historical Society’s Esto Perpetua Award.

Professor Aiken’s research has long focused on social and cultural history, as well as on topics in women’s history and labor history. She recently spoke to current WSU Professor Raymond Sun, and offered the following fun answers to our alumni questionnaire:

One Word that Describes Me: I think many people would use the word “dedicated” to describe me. Once I commit to something, I am determined to see it through.

Coolest/Most Memorable Thing I Did as a Student at WSU: I was in the department where my father had been a major in the 1940s and my two sisters, Mary and Sally, and my brother Jerry were all students at WSU during my tenure there.

Favorite WSU History Course: I enjoyed every history course I took at WSU and was privileged to have such talented professors as David Coon, Richard Hume, Howard Payne, Edward Bennett, and Susan Armitage. My advisor, mentor, and friend LeRoy Ashby taught courses that informed my entire career, especially his Recent America courses. I taught History for almost four decades and the foundation that Washington State University faculty provided stood my in good stead. I thought of my professors often when I prepared lectures and assignments.

Most Notable Accomplishment: Being married for over forty-six years with two children and two grandchildren is certainly my most noteworthy personal accomplishment. I was the first tenured woman in the University of Idaho Department of History and the first woman dean in the liberal arts college.

Advice I would Give to a Prospective WSU Student: Enroll at Washington State University. WSU prepared me well for all my endeavors—I could not have received a higher quality education anywhere. Even more importantly, I received personal attention from faculty and staff.

After Graduation I… Worked for five years at Lewis Clark State College in Lewiston before returning to my undergraduate institution—the University of Idaho. I was a history professor, college dean, and interim provost and executive vice-president. I am an American historian; I focus on women, labor, social and cultural, environmental, and Idaho history.

Favorite Historical Movie? During this centennial year for women’s suffrage I often think of Iron Jawed Angels. However, Hidden Figures hits every target. It does a good job of setting out historical context; it illustrates systemic racism; it emphasizes women’s accomplishments and their determination; and it is a terrific example of how historians can make visible parts of our past that were invisible.


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