Contact Information
Voice: 657-278-7893
Dept: 657-278-3474

Benjamin Cawthra, Ph.D.

Professor of History


Benjamin Cawthra is a twentieth-century U.S. cultural historian. He also teaches public history and has experience in the museum field. His book Blue Notes in Black and White examines the evolving representation of jazz subjects from the swing era of the 1930s to the black nationalist 1960s in the context of the civil rights movement. His current projects include The Redemptive Lens, in which he investigates the ways photojournalists and filmmakers envisioned Italy as it recovered from fascism and World War II and navigated the early years of the Cold War. He has served as a consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of California and University of Chicago presses, and the Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles. As a public historian at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, he curated, among other exhibitions, Miles: A Miles Davis Retrospective (2001). He is an associate director of the Center for Oral and Public History and has directed several history exhibitions, including New Birth of Freedom: Civil War to Civil Rights in California (2011) and Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club featuring the photography of Kathy Sloane (2015). He received the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Fellowship in American Art and the Cal Humanities Community Stories grant among other awards and taught for two summers (2012-13) in Florence, Italy in the CSUF Study Abroad program, with courses on American writers and artists in Italy and modern Italy and film. He also teaches a University Honors seminar in jazz and American culture and maintains a blog at He joined the CSUF history department in 2007.


B.A. Walla Walla College

A.M., Ph.D. Washington University in St. Louis

Research Areas

Twentieth-century United States cultural history; visual history; U.S.-Italian cultural interaction; African American history and culture.

Courses Regularly Taught

United States Cultural History

The United States, 1920-1960

Jazz and American Culture (Honors Seminar)

Visual History

Seminar in Public History

World War II Home Front in Los Angeles


The Redemptive Lens: The Image of Italy in War and Peace (in progress).

“Yesternow: Jack Johnson, Documentary Film, and the Politics of Jazz,” in Gerald Early, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Boxing (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

“Duke Ellington’s Jump or Joy and the Fight for Equality in Wartime Los Angeles,” Southern California Quarterly Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2016).

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Herb Snitzer: Photographs from the Last Years of Metronome (Sheldon Art Galleries, 2008).