This week’s interview is with Jason Steinhauer. Jason is a Program Specialist in the Office of Scholarly Programs of the Library of Congress.
Describe your background.
I’m a New Yorker through-and-through, in everything from how fast I walk to my subsistence on pizza and bagels. I was born at Albert Einstein Hospital in the Bronx and have lived most of my life in the city and suburbs.
I’m Jewish and proud of my Jewish heritage. My great-grandparents on my father’s side were part of the great wave of Jewish immigrants that came to the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century. My grandfather was born on Avenue C and 6th Street on the Lower East Side; my grandmother was born in the Jewish socialist section of Brooklyn known as Brownsville.
My grandparents on my mother’s side are Holocaust survivors, and my mother was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after the war. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with that legacy. Among the many things it has instilled in me is fierce determination–a belief that anything, even the worst that we as humans can do to one another, eventually can be overcome and defeated. Their stories of survival give me courage.
What is your academic/professional history?
Growing up, I always loved history. In college, I began to see how history impacts people’s lives and their sense of identity. I knew that’s where I wanted to commit myself.
After graduating, I was hired by the Museum of Jewish Heritage to help with an exhibit on Jewish soldiers of World War II. That exhibit, Ours to Fight For, went on to win the Grand Prize for Excellence in Exhibitions from the American Alliance of Museums, and launched my career. It also introduced me to oral history, which I continue to advocate for. I went on to curate several landmark history exhibitions, became a certified archivist along the way, and by 2006 had begun an independent consulting business for museums, archives, and non-profits.
In 2009, I gave a lecture on Ours to Fight For as part of the Oral History of the Mid-Atlantic (OHMAR) conference held here at the Library. There I learned about the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP). When a job came open in VHP, I applied. To my great fortune, I got the position. I began on December 7, 2009–Pearl Harbor Day. I worked there for two and a half years, until seven months ago, when I transitioned to The John W. Kluge Center.
How would you describe your job to other people.
My job is to manage programs and communications for the Kluge Center–which is a vibrant intellectual center within the Library that brings scholars from around the world to do research in the Library collections and interact with policymakers and the public. Basically I connect brilliant minds with the Library’s incredibly rich holdings, and communicate to the public what our scholars uncover and why it’s important to advancing the thinking and knowledge of our time. It’s a great job.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress.
Through the study and exploration of history, I believe we can have a profoundly positive impact on people’s lives and sense of selves. Here we get to do that every day.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library of Congress.
First, it’s exciting that the Kluge Center and Law Library of Congress work so closely. Approximately one hundred scholars pass through the Kluge Center each year, and many use the Law Library’s collections. Currently we have a scholar examining the legacy of 1960s vagrancy laws and how they were used to marginalize certain populations. She’ll be presenting a lecture titled “People Out of Place: The Sixties, The Supreme Court, and Vagrancy Law” on April 11 at noon. We also have an endowed Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance, a senior scholar position that focuses on domestic issues using the Law Library.
For me the most astounding fact is simply that it’s the largest collection of law materials anywhere in the world. I mean, come on. Everything from a pocket sized version of the Magna Carta to legal briefs written by Abraham Lincoln. The collection is a national treasure.
What is something most of your co-workers don’t know about you?
I’m not sure everyone knows I front a two-person blues rock band. We’re called The Grey Area and we play in and around D.C. as well as across the country. We’ve been nominated for six Washington Area Music Awards and our latest music video was picked up by MTV. Music and history are my two passions. I’m lucky to be able to do both.