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Convergence of Activism and Scholarship

Professor of History Sarah Swedberg, PhD, earns Distinguished Faculty award

The 2020 Distinguished Faculty recipient Sarah Swedberg, PhD, was a 21-year-old college dropout living in San Francisco when she attached herself to multiple causes — crusading against apartheid, U.S. military involvement in Central American conflicts and on behalf of LGBTQ issues including the raging AIDS pandemic.

“I got involved in a lot of different kinds of activism,” said Swedberg, a professor of history in her 21st year of teaching at CMU. “It was 1986, the worst part of the AIDS crisis in the United States, and San Francisco was one of the places where it was most evident. Any form of social injustice has always gotten my attention.”

Later, she earned her bachelor’s at State University of New York and her doctorate at Northeastern University.

Her history of activism and scholarship converged at CMU in 2012 when she created a one-credit LGBTQ studies course that later became a part of the essential learning curriculum at CMU.

“I’m very proud of the fact that the class has been taught every semester since then, even though I’m not always the instructor,” said Swedberg. “I would estimate that half to three-quarters of the people who have taken the course are not LGBTQ, and many, many students have told me it was something they really needed. I think it’s made a difference.”

Swedberg said she feels honored to join the cohort of respected educators who have been honored as Distinguished Faculty.

“These are people I’ve liked and admired. It feels like validation, a nice acknowledgement of the hard work I’ve done over the past 20 years,” she said.


Hometown: Born in Frankfurt, Germany, but grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and Moultonborough, New Hampshire

Profession: Professor of history

How many years at CMU: 21

Most memorable book: “The book that had the most effect on me as a historian is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’sTale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.”

Favorite vacation location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hobbies: Vegetarian cooking

Accomplishments: “What gives me the greatest pleasure when I think about my career at CMU is how I have helped to significantly change the conversation around LGBTQ issues. I hate injustice and cannot stay silent when I see injustice or intractability. I have developed SOCI 101: Intro to LGBTQ Studies, a state-wide, transferable essential learning course. Secondly, I have worked now for 11 years on my current research project and recently published my book, Liberty and Insanity in the Age of the American Revolution.”


Written by Dennis Taylor