Professor profile: Kelly Erby

Kelly Erby is an associate professor of history at Washburn. She has been passionately teaching at Washburn since she came in 2011. She is also the chair of Academic Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which organized 2019 Themester.

“It’s important to study history because we see the way that things came to be,” said Erby.

Erby is passionate about history and she is a historian of the early 19th century. She is drawn to this period because it was a period with a lot of changes. She is teaching three classes this semester, including U.S. History Through the Civil War, Early National U.S. History and History Forum.

“In history classes people think that it’s about memorizing names and dates, but that’s really not what it’s about. In history classes, you spend a lot of time talking about things, like race and gender, and understanding how those things come to be constructed over time,” Erby said. “It helps you to realize that those things are inevitable. They are not set in stone so we can change those things.”

In addition to teaching history classes, Erby also wants to engage students and the Washburn community in a collective learning experience on timely subjects. This semester, she promoted diversity and inclusion through extracurricular programs and events.

Erby is working on 2019 Themester, a new initiative to foster a campus-wide conversation on a variety of topics that will change each spring semester. It encourages a multi-faceted approach to a theme and connects the academic issues faculty and staff members teach with co-curricular activities.

“The idea is that you kick out a topic, and you examine it throughout the semester,” said Erby. “It’s a very cool way to encourage more faculties and students’ interactions, especially on tough, complicated questions and facilitated dialog.”

The spring 2019 theme is freedom of speech and expression. It includes events at Mabee Library and Union Underground, panel discussions at the Rita Blitt Gallery, art exhibits in Mulvane Art Museum, films and public lectures.

Themester 2019 will explore the importance of rights of freedom of speech and expression to intellectual pursuits and democracy. These analyses will help people engage in rigorous debate as they also insist on respect for the historically marginalized and excluded.

Yijuan Zhao, senior art history major, met Erby in a meeting while working on a project for one of her classes. Zhao is an international student from China.

“She is professional and dedicated to her job,” said Zhao. “She was sitting in the front row with a little baby. In Chinese culture, women don’t usually work when the child is still young.”

Erby is knowledgeable in history and philosophy. She encourages students to think about freedom of speech and expression. Students interested in Themester 2019 can go to the website