About Us

Center for Presidential History

Meet the Staff

Director: Jeffrey A. Engel

Jeffrey EngelEngel has authored or edited six books on American foreign policy, including Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (Harvard University Press, 2007), which received the Paul Birdsall Prize from the American Historical Association; Local Consequences of the Global Cold War (Stanford University Press and the Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008); The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President (Princeton University Press, 2008); The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989 (Oxford University Press, 2009); with Joseph R. Cerami, Rethinking Leadership and “Whole of Government” National Security Reform (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010); and Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War (Oxford University Press, 2012).  His scholarly and popular articles have appeared in such journals as Diplomatic History; Diplomacy & Statecraft; Project Syndicate; Perspectives on History; Enterprise & Society; The International Journal; and Air & Space Magazine.

He is currently writing Seeking Monsters to Destroy: How America Goes to War, From Jefferson to Obama (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and a comprehensive diplomatic history of the first Bush Administration entitled When the World Seemed New: American Foreign Policy in the Age of George H.W. Bush (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming).

Contact: jaengel@smu.edu

Associate Director: Brian R. Franklin

Brian Franklin joined the Center for Presidential History as Associate Director in the Summer of 2012 after completing his doctoral work at Texas A&M University.  His research focuses on American religious and political history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He has presented his work at the annual meetings of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, American Society of Church History, and the British Scholar Society, and has published reviews in the Journal of the Early Republic and Southern Historian.  Brian’s current project, America's Missions: The Home Missions Movement and the Story of the Early Republic, explores the role of Protestant mission societies in shaping the political, social, and regional world of the early republic.

Contact: brfranklin@smu.edu

Coordinator: Ronna Spitz

portrait of Ronna SpitzRonna Spitz joined the Center for Presidential History as Coordinator in the Fall of 2012.  Her professional background includes university, government, and large corporate marketing, event planning, and project management.  She has worked in multiple fields, including the petroleum industry; electricity generation, distribution and government regulation; and business intelligence software.  Her most recent university position was as Director of Research Communications and Marketing at the University of Oklahoma’s Sarkeys Energy Center.  Ronna holds a B.S. in finance and a MBA in marketing from Oklahoma City University.

Contact: rspitz@smu.edu

Fellow: William Steding

William StedingSteding has a broad background that extends from the corporate boardroom to the classroom.  In the business world he works with public and private organizations on a range of issues from global risk assessment, mergers and acquisitions, executive development, and strategic and operational planning.  In the academic world his interests include presidential decision-making, religion, and US foreign policy.  His academic credentials include degrees in marketing and finance from the University of Washington, and his PhD in diplomatic history from University College Cork in Ireland.  He is the creator of cognetic profiling™ that provides a powerful diagnostic tool to explain complex decision-making based on the beliefs, convictions, and modus operandi of the executive or leader.  His principal focus at the Center for Presidential History is the development of the Collective Memory Project.  He is the author of a number of essays and book reviews as well as his 2007 collection, American Avenue: Rhythm and Reason.  He has two chapters on President Jimmy Carter forthcoming in edited volumes published by Cambridge University Press and the Wiley-Blackwell Companion Series of American Presidents.  His next study is tentatively titled The Disciple and the Alchemist: Religion and US Foreign Policy During the Presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  His most current writings can be found at ameritecture.blogspot.org.

Contact: william@steding.net

Fellow: Michael Nelson

Mike Nelson

As a Fellow with the Center for Presidential History, Michael Nelson is the lead researcher and interviewer for a project on the Election of 2004 (a silo within the Collective Memory Project).  When complete, the project will be released on the web, featuring interviews with President Bush's staff, members of various Democratic campaigns, and key members of the media and academia who covered this historic election.  Nelson is the Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College, as well as a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.  He has published more than twenty-five books and nearly two hundred articles on the presidency, elections, the bureaucracy, public policy, southern politics, and liberal education.  In the Spring of 2014, Nelson will see two new books published: Resilient America: The 1968 Election (University Press of Kansas), and 41: Inside the Presidency of George H.W. Bush (Cornell University Press), which he coedited with Barbara A. Perry.

Postdoctoral Fellow: Aaron Crawford

Aaron Crawford

Aaron Crawford joined the Center for Presidential History in August 2013. He is leading a series of interviews for the Collective Memory Project focused on the Courts and the Constitution during the Bush Presidency. He is an Associate Editor at the Ulysses S. Grant Papers Project, which is housed at the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University. His research focuses on the Presidency, Political and Constitutional History, and Nineteenth Century America. He received his doctorate from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While at Tennessee, he was an Assistant Editor at the James K. Polk Papers project. He also worked at the Modern Political Archives at the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy at The University of Tennessee. His article “Patriot Slaveholder: Andrew Jackson and the Winter of Secession,” won the McClung Award in the Journal of East Tennessee History. He has published numerous book reviews. In addition to working on the first scholarly edition of The Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Aaron is also working on a history of Presidential Memoirs and continuing work on his project about John Randolph of Roanoke, Slavery, and Transatlantic Politics.

Fellow: LaiYee Leong

Fellow: LaiYee Leong

LaiYee Leong is a Fellow at the CPH and also at SMU's John G. Tower Center for Political Studies.  She is the lead researcher and interviewer for the Collective Memory Project's work on Post-9/11 Policy in East and Southeast Asia.  Leong received her B.A. in English and Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University.  Her scholarship examines Islamic groups and ideological change in the context of democratization.  Her most recent publication is on religion and the state in Indonesia; it appears in Sacred Matters, Stately Concerns: Essays on Faith and Politics in Asia (Peter Lang, 2014).  In the SMU Master of Liberal Arts program, Leong teaches courses such as Comparative Politics, The Politics of Southeast Asia, The Politics of the Middle East, and The Politics of Islam.  Leong was formerly a news journalist at the Television Corporation of Singapore where she reported on regional political developments and education.

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Fellow: Sylvia Hoffert

Sylvia HoffertSylvia Hoffert is the lead researcher and interviewer on the Collective Memory Project "The First Lady and the East Wing."  She holds a PhD. in American history from Indiana University-Bloomington. In 2005 she left her position as Professor of History and Women’s Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to teach at Texas A & M University.  She is the author of five books on women and gender in the United States including Private Matters: American Attitudes Toward Childbearing and Infant Nurture in the Urban North, 1800-1860 (1989); When Hens Crow: The Woman’s Rights Movement in Antebellum America (1995); A History of Gender in America: Essays, Documents, and Articles (2003); and Jane Grey Swisshelm: An Unconventional Life, 1815-1884 (2004). Her most recent book is Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women’s Rights, a biography of a women’s rights activist who funded the activities of the National Woman’s Party between 1909 and her death in 1933. She has published articles in numerous major journals, including the Journal of Women’s History, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the AmericasWestern Historical Quarterly, and American Quarterly.  Professor Hoffert retired from university teaching in 2011 and moved back to Chapel Hill.  She is currently teaching at the Duke Lifelong Learning Institute and writing a historical novel set in antebellum North Carolina.