John McKerley

Adjunct Assistant Professor

Drop-in hours: by appointment only

John is a historian of labor and civil and human rights whose work focuses on oral history methods. 

His first book, Foot Soldiers for Democracy (Illinois, 2009), a co-edited volume of oral histories from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), reinterpreted the story of the city’s well-documented 1963 anti-segregation campaign through the lens of overlapping generations. The book was recognized as a recommended reading by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Library of Congress. It also served as a core text for two NEH workshops for K-12 educators and as an inspiration for the Birmingham exhibition at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Former US Senate historian Donald Ritchie included it in his highly selective bibliography of recent and influential works in the third edition of Doing Oral History, a standard guide in the field. A revised and expanded edition—updated to include interviews with activists since the 1990s—is under advance contract with the University of Illinois Press. 

Between 2013 and 2023, John served as the oral historian for the University of Iowa Labor Center, where he managed the Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP). With approximately 1,500 interviews, ILHOP stands as one of the largest and longest-running, labor-focused oral history projects in the US. Founded by the Iowa Federation of Labor in the 1970s, ILHOP has since become a major collaboration between the Iowa labor movement, the University of Iowa, the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI), and the Iowa Labor History Society. The interviews provide the core of the larger Iowa Labor Collection, an archival and manuscript collection documenting Iowa’s labor and working-class history at SHSI’s Iowa City Research Center. 

For more information regarding ILHOP and the Labor Collection, see the project’s website:  

ILHOP: Iowa History as Told by the Workers Who Made It    

For more information regarding John’s scholarly work, see his personal site: 

The Extra Board 

John earned his PhD in History from the University of Iowa in 2008, and his MA in Library and Information Science from Iowa in 2023. He is currently a full-time union representative with the Iowa State Education Association serving southeastern Iowa. 


  • HIST: 1010 History Matters - U Turns: U.S. Workers and Inequality from the Great Depression to the Great Recession
  • HIST: 1010 History Matters - Globalization from the Bottom Up: Work, Migration, and Citizenship in U.S. History
  • HIST:1166 Rapid Response History – Controversial Histories 
  • HIST: 4256 The Progressive Era in America

Awards & Service

  • Archie Green Fellowship, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (2023-24) 
  • “Indexing the Iowa Labor History Oral Project,” National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (2018-2020)
  • Endangered Oral Historians Task Force, Oral History Association (2018-present)
  • Immigrant/Refugee Health and Wellbeing Research Group, University of Iowa (2018-present)
  • Social Justice and the Archive Working Group, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa (2018-present)
  • President, Iowa Labor History Society (2017-present)
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Research Fellowship (2017-18)
  • Judge, National History Day in Iowa, Grant Wood District Contest (2017)
  • Labor Working Group, Oral History Association (2016-2018)
  • Archie Green Fellowship, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (2015-16)
  • Co-director, Huntsville African American History Project, Huntsville, Alabama (2014-present)
  • ILHOP Advisory Committee (2013-present)
  • Co-organizer, Working-Class Worlds: Local and Global Perspectives on Labor History (A Conference Honoring Shelton Stromquist), Iowa City, Iowa (July 2011)
  • Seashore Dissertation Year Fellowship, Graduate College, University of Iowa (2006-07)
  • Elizabeth Bennett Ink Dissertation Fellowship, Department of History, University of Iowa (2004-06)
  • Graduate Research Fellowship, New York Public Library, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (2004)
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Research Fellowship (2003-04)
  • Crossing Borders Fellow, University of Iowa (1999-01)





Research areas
  • Oral and Public History
  • U.S. Labor and Working-Class History
  • Civil and Human Rights
John McKerley

100 UI Bioventures Center, Room W130
Coralville, IA 52241
United States