Julia Brown-Bernstein

Julia Brown-Bernstein is a PhD candidate in the department of History. Julia’s research examines the relationship between neoliberalism, citizenship, and belonging in the late twentieth century. Her dissertation is a social history of the  San Fernando Valley as it underwent demographic shifts and economic restructuring from the 1950s to the early 2000s. It addresses how different racial and ethnic groups, including recently arrived immigrants from Latin America and South Asia, not only made the region a transnational crossroads, linking communities from the Southern Cone to South Korea, but also how they shaped US political life and culture. Her work sheds light on how neoliberal policies of the latter twentieth century altered who belongs and what it means to be a citizen in a privatizing world.

Julia has received a number of awards and fellowships, including the USC Mellon Humanities in a Digital World Doctoral Fellowship, The Haynes Lindley Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, and the Lois W. Banner award. Her article, “Under the Canopy: Finding Belonging at the San Fernando Swap Meet, 1976-2019” was published in the Journal of American Ethnic History fall 2021.

Before pursuing her PhD, Julia was a public school teacher in the San Fernando Valley. She holds an M.Ed. from UCLA and a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College.


Jillaine Cook

Jillaine Cook is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Southern California where she is working on a dissertation that explores the shifting boundaries of citizenship and belonging in the US West during the First World War. She is interested in the ways that war serves as a catalyst for social and political change and in moments of intersection between the state and individuals in community.

Born in Northern California, Jillaine has spent her life on the Pacific Coast, moving to Oregon as a child and now enjoying the sunshine of Southern California. She received her BA in History from Linfield College, writing a senior thesis on Japanese internment during World War II in Canada, with an eye to the ways in which Canadian policy contrasted with the more well-known internment implemented by the United States. Jillaine remains dedicated to thinking about US history transnationally and is particularly interested in themes of settler colonialism, empire, race, and citizenship.

Email: jillainc@usc.edu

Abby Gibson

Abby Gibson is a PhD candidate in the Van Hunnick Department of History at USC. She received her BA in U.S. History and Film Studies from Pepperdine University in 2017 and her MA in U.S. History from the University of Oklahoma in 2019. While at OU, Abby worked as the book review editor for The Western Historical Quarterly as part of a two-year editorial fellowship. In the fall of 2019 Abby returned to southern California to pursue her PhD at USC. Her dissertation, “Fearful Land: Managing Terror in the American West, 1820–1920” reexamines the process of the American conquest of the West over the course of the 19th century through the lens of the history of emotions. She traces the terrors this region posed to an expanding nation across the 19th century and considers the mechanisms that enabled a settler nation and its people to surmount their fears of this place and emotionally “tame” the American West. Abby’s article, “Hamlin Garland’s ‘Mad Quest’ for the Buried Crosses” published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Journal of Alta California recently received a nomination from the Los Angeles Press Club for Best Creative/Performing Arts Feature over 1,000 words. This summer, Abby will jumpstart her dissertation research at the Autry Museum of the American West Archives and Library as the Visiting Scholar for Summer 2023.

Email: gibsonam@usc.edu

Tahireh Hicks

Tahireh Hicks is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at USC. Born and raised in Southern California, she completed her A.B. in History at Princeton University, where she received the C.O. Joline Prize in American History in 2017. Having returned to the West Coast for graduate school, Tahireh now centers her research on the entangled histories of California Indigenous and ethnic Mexican communities in Southern California. With a particular focus on the Orange County region, her work explores constructions of indigeneity and whiteness as both racial and legal categories within the intersecting frameworks of Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. empire in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century West.

Email: tahirehh@usc.edu

Lauren Kelly

Lauren Kelly is a PhD candidate in the Van Hunnick Department of History at USC. Her research reframes a seminal event in water history of the U.S. West: the story of how Los Angeles seized water from Payahuunadü (the Owens Valley). Most scholars and the broader public understand this water transfer through the lens of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct, which the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) completed in 1913. However, to truly comprehend both the environmental and human impacts of LADWP’s water extraction, it is crucial to turn our gaze to the decades following this first piece of infrastructure. By providing a diverse and multi-generational study of one of the most famous water transfers in the U.S. West, Lauren demonstrates how resource extraction creates long-term, transformative relationships that are comprehensible only over a long time scale. Lauren’s project argues that, in our era of ever-increasing demands for water, this knowledge will help us craft plans to address water precarity that value all communities and landscapes.

Before coming to USC, Lauren got her BA in history from UC Berkeley. She’s dedicated to service to her department and broader community, serving her second year as the president of USC’s History Graduate Student Association and as a Graduate Student Representative for the Western Association of Women Historians.

Lauren is a PhD Fellow with the 2022-2023 Mellon Sawyer Seminar “Precarious Ecologies.” In addition, she has received fellowships and awards such as the 2022 and 2023 USC Wrigley Institute Graduate Fellowships for environmental studies and the John R. Hubbard Award for departmental leadership during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Email: kellylau@usc.edu

Amber Santoro

Amber Santoro is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Van Hunnick History Department at USC, where she studies race, displacement, and belonging in the nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. West. Born and raised in Los Angeles County, Amber received her bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona, where she received the Pemstein Award and the 2022 Digital History Award.

At USC, Amber’s research explores the historical dimensions of environmental racism and transportation, with a particular focus on the impacts of freeway displacements on marginalized communities. Her scholarly journey reached a significant milestone when she became the inaugural USC Libraries Summer Primary Research Fellow, allowing her to advance her research on community displacement in Los Angeles. As part of this fellowship, she is actively curating a digital exhibit on the Century/105 Freeway, scheduled for release in Spring 2024. While primarily centered around archival materials from the Century Freeway records hosted by USC Special Collections, this exhibit will also consider other instances of twentieth-century freeway displacements in Los Angeles.

Amber’s latest research examines race, public health, naturalization, and education during the Progressive Era. Her focus on youth readership allows her to shed new light on the racialized narratives and ideals propagated by the mass publishing industry, emphasizing the intersection of moral reform, eugenics, and societal anxieties.

Email: ajsantor@usc.edu

Jhelene Shaw

Jhelene Shaw studies westward expansion, frontier newspapers, and nineteenth and twentieth century cultural history. She is a second-year PhD student who relocated to Pasadena from her native Colorado, where she received a BA in history and English from the University of Colorado. Her summa cum laude thesis analyzed recently-recovered pioneer testimonies and the boosterist impact of The New York Tribune. Her work at USC furthers these themes in investigations into early California town-building and class conflict as depicted on the pages of local newspapers. She plans to continue this work in her dissertation, dissecting the ideological complexity of blunt and bizarre nineteenth-century periodicals.

As much as she relishes the stylistic absurdity of these frontier editors, she strives for the opposite in her own work, for which she has received several best-of awards and scholarships. She recently realized a passion for teaching and hopes to combine teaching and writing in her future career. She currently serves on both the History Graduate Student Association’s executive board and the Cohen Lecture Committee at USC.

Email: jrshaw@usc.edu

Gary Stein

G. Martin (Gary) Stein is a PhD Candidate in the History program at USC. He received his BA in History from his hometown school, Queens College, a City University of New York (CUNY). He secured a Master’s (MA) degree in History from Claremont Graduate University in Southern California before coming to USC and ICW in 2016. His Master’s Thesis won the Center for Communal Studies Graduate Paper Prize in 2017, and he has presented parts of the paper at academic conferences. Specializing in Western Environmental History, Stein is currently working on his dissertation, “Outside the Box: Opposing the Grid and Its Apparatus in the American West, 1830-1990.” The project investigates intentionally independent societies across the American West. Broken into a set of discrete, but thematically and historically connected case studies, it analyzes the efforts of select groups who sought to live autonomously and self-sufficiently, rejecting the core values of the U.S. settler society, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and western American capitalism. “Outside the Box” identifies the rectilinear grid, employed to survey and distribute the western territories, as fostering this settler society, ignoring delicate ecosystems, native habitats, and existing inhabitants. The select groups posed a direct challenge to the established system and expressed or practiced these challenges through the [non-rectangular] shapes they built and spaces they inhabited. In their quest for self-sufficiency and a more direct connection with the land, they consistently encountered fierce opposition to the formation and existence of their collective experiments. “Outside the Box” seeks to uncover some of the persistent obstacles faced in the struggle for freedom and equality, and the innovative attempts to achieve this elusive American dream.

Gary recently received the USC History Department Dissertation Fellowship. In April 2021, he was invited to participate on a panel at the Whitsett Graduate Seminar, hosted by Cal State Northridge. From 2018-2020, he served as the Research Assistant for the Historical Ecology of the Los Angeles River and Watershed (HELAR), a two-year project granted by the Haynes Foundation to gather and geo-locate historical information such as the historical distribution, character, and dynamics of the LA River, and to understand, through historical reconstruction, the specific habitats within the watershed prior to heavy urbanization.

Email: garystei@usc.edu

Daniel Wallace

Sewing machines and brothels. Geronimo’s Locomobile and philandering coal men. Indian policy and department stores. Civilization and sex. Behind each of these is a story about capitalism in the American West. How capitalism ticked and shaped life for the region’s many people drives Daniel Wallace’s scholarly curiosity. His work sits at the intersection of the economic, social, and cultural in the defining moment between the Civil War and First World War. Daniel made the trip west to California from Buffalo, New York. He comes in search of stories tucked away in the archives, and what they can teach us not only about the past, but also the fight for fairness in our own time.

Email: wall692@usc.edu