History professor hopes students will learn from past to better future

Tiffany Sanders

Issue date: 4/8/08 Section: Campus News

Media Credit: Tiffany Sanders



Dr. Donna Cooper Graves is an associate professor of history here at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Dr. Graves is originally from the Kansas City area, but has lived in numerous cities around the U.S. She began teaching at UTM in August of 1997. She teaches American social and cultural history, American women's history, public history, and special topics courses in the history of childhood and family and the westward movement. Next spring she is planning to offer a course on the history of sexuality.

Dr. Graves has had a great appreciation for history since she was a child. Her father loved history as well and always took the family on vacations where most of their photographs are of the kids standing in front of historical markers. In college, she was influenced by and admired several of her history professors.

She wants her students to understand the past, both the good and the bad that has shaped human history.

"Rather than seeing history as information about the past, I want my students to understand that the lessons of history can make them better human beings in the present and thus they can assert a positive influence on the future," she said.

In her classes, she devotes a lot of time to discussion. Each semester, Dr. Graves uses different books for her classes. She wants to find books that are interesting both for her and for her students. Getting students involved in discussion helps them to develop skills in leadership and critical thinking, both needed in any sort of profession. She is the faculty advisor for Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.

Dr. Graves calls herself a "culture vulture." She is especially attracted to art, modern ballet, opera and theater. Season tickets to Ballet Memphis and the Paducah Symphony satisfy her while in Martin, but she especially enjoys traveling to New York City and Los Angeles to soak up the best in the arts.

When asked, "If you could do anything else besides teach, what would it be?" she very quickly said she would be an art museum curator. She really has a passion for art and art history.

"I have been in almost every major art museum in almost every large city in the United States and some in Western Europe," Graves said.

She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in European history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. After graduating from there, she attended the University of Kansas where she completed her PhD in American history in 1994.

She has taught at many colleges including Montana State University, Central Michigan University, Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State), and Truman State University (formerly Northeast Missouri State). At Central Michigan University, Dr. Graves was the director of the women's studies program for four years.

In 2006, she published an edited collection of essays on infanticide with a former colleague at Central Michigan, entitled Killing Infants: Studies in the Worldwide Practice of Infanticide. Causing the death of infants less than twelve months, but usually shortly after birth, is how infanticide is defined. While horrific, this act has occurred across the planet and throughout human history. In the last several decades, it has become a research area for growing numbers of scholars in many fields. They are currently working on what may be a two-volume specialized encyclopedia on infanticide.