Cate Denial

Historian and Award-Winning Educator

Catherine (Cate) Denial, Ph.D. is the Bright Distinguished Professor of American History and Director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and author of the forthcoming A Pedagogy of Kindness. A distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Denial won the American Historical Associations’ 2018 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award. She serves on the board of Commonplace: A Journal of Early American Life and is a past member of the Educational Advisory Committee of the Digital Public Library of America. From 2001 to 2011 Denial served as the Lead Historian for Bringing History Home, a professional development program for K-12 educators funded by $3m from the U.S. Department of Education.

Denial’s new book, A Pedagogy of Kindness (2024), argues that higher education needs to get aggressively and determinedly kind. As she says, “We have had our fill of niceness; we have suffered beneath the weight of just ‘getting along.’ We need to shift every part of what we do to prioritize care and compassion, not only for our students but for ourselves. We deserve change that creates a system of higher education in which we are each valued for the totality of who we are instead of only the products (books, bell curves, patents, performances) we are urged to create.” A Pedagogy of Kindness is about attending to justice, believing people, and believing in people.  It’s a transformational discipline.

From 2022-2023 Cate was the P.I. on a Mellon-funded grant made to Knox College investigating “Pedagogies, Communities, and Practices of Care in the Academy After COVID-19.” This project brought together 36 participants from different higher ed institutions across the United States to think critically about issues of trauma, disability, and sustainable pedagogical practices for faculty and staff in community colleges, liberal arts colleges, regional public universities, and major flagship institutions.

Denial has convened both general and history-specific workshops for faculty and staff at dozens of colleges and universities in the United States, as well as Monash University in Australia, and the University of Nottingham and Kings College, London in the United Kingdom. She has presented on pedagogy at the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting, and the Illinois History and Social Science Teachers’ Conference, as well as publishing in Syllabus, The History Teacher, and Teaching History: A Journal of Methods. Denial has acted as a global pedagogical consultant for OneHE and has written for Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She is proud to have written content for the 11th grade social studies curriculum for the New York City Department of Education and acted as a historical consultant for the New-York Historical Society.

Denial’s historical scholarship focuses on the experiences of marriage, divorce, pregnancy, and childbirth among early nineteenth-century Ojibwe people and the missionaries who lived among them. Her article, “ ‘Mother of All The Living’: Motherhood, Religion, and Political Culture at the Ojibwe Village of Fond du Lac, 1835-1839,” appeared in Early American Studies, and built on the work of Denial’s first book, Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country (2013). Her current project is a new interpretation of the life of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, and her life among the Ojibwe and fur trade cultures of Sault Ste. Marie.

As creator and director of the Bright Institute at Knox College, Denial oversees programming for successive cohorts of 13 professors of American history before 1848 from liberal arts colleges across the United States. Each cohort of fellows attends an intensive seminar each summer for three years and receives $10,5000 of research funds to advance their teaching and research agendas.

Praise for Cate Denial

“Dr. Cate Denial was the Fall 2023 keynote speaker for our Kindness Initiative, a year of programming inspired by hearing her talk at the AAC&U conference on General Education and Assessment. She was a pleasure to host and a very effective and unflappable speaker and workshop leader. Our investment in Cate’s visit was well worth it, and we hope to have her back.”

—Lauren Igraham, Vice-Provost for Curriculum

and New Program Development at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

“Dr. Catherine Denial champions humanities skills (archival research, close reading, writing and revision) and simultaneously shows how these are essential tools for their non-academic lives, for students and teachers alike. She is the very spirit of generosity and models the kind of collegiality that higher education desperately needs at this moment.”

—Christian Crouch, Dean of Graduate Studies, Bard College

“Cate is a wonderful speaker and facilitator. Our faculty raved about her morning session with us, and it continues to be a topic of conversation across campus as we begin the semester. In our current higher ed environment, Cate’s ideas and strategies for embodying a Pedagogy of Kindness are more important than ever. She is a delight to work with, tailors her material to her audience, and is generous with both her insights and materials. I recommend her enthusiastically!”

—Kevin Gannon Director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence, and Professor of History, at Queens University, Charlotte, North Carolina

“Cate Denial is the real deal doing the real work of helping to create a more humane and inclusive higher education in service of a better world. Her words and actions align. She does not shy away from hard conversations. Rather, she turns toward them with curiosity and kindness and helps her learners to do the same. I am a better educator, person, and friend for having Cate in my life. I highly recommend her as a speaker who will help you to dig past the surface into the depths of the real work that is in desperate need of our attention and time.”

—Karen Costa, author, adjunct faculty member

and faculty development facilitator