The secret lives of LU professors

Kayla Wilson

Assistant Professor of History Monica Rico was once a competitive figure skater. She has always liked history. As a young girl she loved to read Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Johnny Tremain,” and she had a fascination with ancient Egypt. “I had no idea that people could grow up to be historians,” she said.
Now that she has grown up and become a historian, her specialty lies in American history, particularly dealing with gender and the environment. “My research focuses on the nineteenth-century understandings of gender and the natural world,” she said.
Rico explained that she originally intended to specialize in British history in graduate school, but she found that there was not a research question in that area interesting enough to her to write a dissertation.
After taking some graduate-level American history classes and receiving faculty encouragement, she made the switch.
While in college at UC-Berkeley, she developed her interest in gender studies, completing an honors project about women students at Oxford and Cambridge.
As for the environment, this was something she was interested in for quite some time, working for various environmental organizations between college and grad school.
Rico is currently at work on projects that draw on all of these interests.
The first, and closest to completion, is a book about masculinity in the American West. Based on her doctoral dissertation, the project is built around six biographical essays, written by three British men and three American men.
“I want to encourage people to see the West as culturally significant to more than just Americans,” she said of the project. The book is currently under contract with a publisher, “so it will be done, soon.”
Her other project, still in the formative stages, is about women and gardening in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Rico’s position at Lawrence “was not the result of careful career planning,” Rico said, calling it “a series of coincidences that led to a good outcome.”
Her husband was offered a job here, and since she was unemployed at the time, they made the move. Initially hired to teach part-time and work in the CTL, a spot in the history department later opened and she applied.
Rico teaches courses in American history, with obvious leanings toward gender and the environment. She has also been able to draw on her British history background and teach classes in that area, an opportunity she enjoys. “It’s fun!” she said.
In her spare time, Rico loves to spend time with her adorable dog Niko, who “really helps [her] enjoy winter.” She also loves to cook and work out, joking, “It’s really good that I like both.”
She is also studying Chinese, and she can carry on very simple conversations in that language. As for reading, which she enjoys immensely, Rico laments the lack of time she has to devote to it at the moment.
“I used to just devour books,” she said. Unable to pick a favorite book, she said “I like to have a lot of different friends, just like I like to have a lot of different kinds of books.” She also “really love[s] TV,” but she cannot handle a long drawn out storyline anymore, not since the implosion of “The X-Files.” Instead, she prefers the Food Network and sports, including figure skating.

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