Former CPH director, historian Monica Perales leaves a legacy

Monica Perales

Monica Perales’ decades-spanning tenure at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences has come to an end, leaving a remarkable legacy of community outreach and institutional advancement in her wake. Serving as director of the Center for Public History (CPH) for five years, Perales helped elevate public history to new heights in Houston and beyond.

“Monica has a quiet strength about her that came through as she guided the Center for Public History through some challenging times,” Marty Melosi, former director of the Center for Public History and history professor emeritus said. “I never doubted for a minute that CPH was in good hands with her as its leader. We will miss her dearly, but we know she will do great things in San Antonio.”

An award-winning educator, author and historian, Perales joined the University of Houston in 2004 as a visiting professor. She played many pivotal roles in the classroom, where she encouraged students to engage with the past and critically think about its implications for the present and future and the college. In 2017, she was asked to replace Melosi as director of the Center for Public History.

“I think the Center has flourished under her direction, and the focus of the projects have in fact strengthened,” Julie Cohn, research historian in the Center for Public History. “The people who have joined the Center and used it as a touchstone for their public history work have been able to draw from that strength, not just teaching but serving on committees and recruiting others.”

From Houston History magazine to the 100 Years of Stories project, the Center for Public History’s work under Perales’ leadership has spanned multiple arenas. The Center launched a slew of new channels, offering podcasts, webinars and online research panels to engage communities through oral history.

Perales’ passion for local and global historical research also spurred new opportunities for CPH students to partner with university and community partners on special history projects. Twenty-two new internships were formed with local nonprofit organizations, historical consulting firms and a host of cultural institutions.

Perales noted that although the new role and opportunities presented by the Institute are exhilarating, the transition out of UH is also bittersweet. She worked at UH her entire career and loves the city of Houston.

“I am excited to use my skills as a historian, as an educator and as a public historian in different ways. My expertise in Texas history, public history and in how people connect with in the past are things I have been working on for almost 20 years at UH, and I look forward to using them in a new environment with new and different learners,” said Perales, who began her new role as vice provost of the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) Sept. 1.

The Center for Public History’s new director is Mark Goldberg, an award-winning professor and scholar whose research focuses on U.S. Latinx history, the history of borders, immigration, and race and ethnicity. Goldberg previously served as director of the Jewish Studies program, and he is committed to continuing the legacy of excellence that has become the hallmark of CPH.