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Out of the Shadows

Photo of Trevor GetzPhoto by Gino de Grandis

"This woman was tough as nails -- powerful, argumentative, resilient -- and in some ways didn’t need my rescuing," Getz says. "On the other hand, she went to court not for freedom, which she already had, but to be heard. So hopefully this is honoring her assertiveness. Plus, it seemed valuable to portray a woman like that -- not just for the eight other academics in my field, but for a wider readership."


Getz is referring, here, to the broadly appealing graphic component of the book. But the dramatic illustrations are just one aspect of what makes Abina memorable. Following the illustrated section are a reading guide, extensive historical context and the original court transcript, inviting readers to compare Getz’s interpretation with the source material.


"Too often the historian hides the act of doing history. I wanted to be as transparent as possible about it."


This tactic might sound novel to readers of more uncomplicated histories -- but they’re instantly recognizable to the students in Getz’s popular classes. Each unit he teaches is designed to include not just the historical content itself, but a parallel focus on the attendant methods, theory and ethics, too. It’s through this approach that the professor pursues one of his central goals: understanding the lives of as many different people, from as many different perspectives, as possible.


"Getz’s project as a historian is to question the authority of historians as people who produce absolute knowledge and to instead uncover multiple histories, multiple stories," says Brian Griffith, a graduate student in modern European history, who worked with Getz on the Abina website. "The larger question [of the book] is, ‘What is history?’ Getz invites his readers to participate as interpreters, debaters and critical thinkers about the information contained within the primary source document."


In Getz’s classroom and in others, Abina will provide a means to a larger end, one to which Getz himself has devoted his career: "History’s about reversing silence. I’m a big patriot of this University for that reason -- it has been committed to social justice over the years, and to understanding the relationship between scholarly knowledge and power. For me that’s much of what this book is about."


Here Getz pauses and a smile comes over his face.


"That and I’m in love with Abina," he adds. "She’s just so awesome."


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