Mehlman Petrzela, Natalia

Mehlman Oct 13

Natalia  Mehlman Petrzela
PhD, 2009, History, Stanford University
MA, 2004, History, Stanford University
BA, 2000, History, Columbia College 
Assistant Professor of History


My passion for historical study is shaped by my conviction that today’s social and political struggles are not only rooted in the past, but that understanding their origins can illuminate fresh perspectives on current problems. I am deeply committed to teaching, and am fascinated as a scholar and practitioner at how schools continue to be important sites at which larger social, cultural, and political questions are negotiated. My work defines education broadly. My first book, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture (Oxford, 2015), explores the battles over bilingualism and sexuality in American classrooms. My newer work explores the emergence of “wellness culture” in the United States. A former public school teacher, I remain committed to working directly with schools, and am the co-founder of Healthclass2.0, a public-school based program which endeavors to redefine learning about food and fitness.

Further information at

Courses Taught:


  • Pursuits Of Happiness: American Journeys
  • History Of American Education
  • Senior Research Seminar In Education Studies
  • Culture Wars In American Education
  • American Youth Cultures, Past And Present
  • Education at Work
  • Body, Mind and School: Wellness and American Education
  • Introduction to Education Theory



Recent Publications:


  • Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, Oxford University Press - Forthcoming, 2015

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Revisiting the Rightward Turn: Max Rafferty, Education, and Modern American Politics,” The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture, Issue 6.2, Winter 2013. - Forthcoming, 2013

  • With Sarah Manekin, “The Accountability Partnership: Writing and Surviving in the Digital Age,” in Dougherty, Jack, and Nawrotzki, Kristin, eds., Writing History in the Digital Age, University of Michigan Digital Humanities Series - October 2013

  •  “Before the Federal Bilingual Education Act: Legislation and Lived Experience,” Immigration and Education: A Special Issue of the Peabody Journal of Education, Vol.85, No.4., 406-424. - November 2010

  • “’Sex Ed… and the Reds?’ Reconsidering the Anaheim Battle over Sex Education, 1962-1969,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, 203-232. - May 2007

Book Reviews

  • Review of Robin Jensen, Dirty Words: The Rhetoric of Sex Education, 1870-1924, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 22, No. 2, 339-342. - May 2013

Encyclopedia Entries

  • “Multiculturalism,” in Ness, Immanuel, ed., The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration, Wiley-Blackwell, Vol. IV, 2237-2242. - 2013
  • “Sex Education,” in Hunt, Thomas Carper, James C., et al, The Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent, SAGE Publications, 821-25. - 2010

Selected Blog Posts


    Office Location:
    80 5th Avenue
    Office 521
    New York
    NY 10011
    Office Hours:

    By appointment

    Phone Number/Extension:
    212.229.5100 x2794


    Research Interests:
    20th-Century U.S. history, especially of politics, society, and culture, with a focus on gender, sexuality, race, and identity. My first book project focuses on the emergence of and battles over the teaching of Spanish-bilingual and sex education during the 1960s and 1970s as a lens through which to contemporary politics. My newer work takes up a different facet of American social politics, exploring the enduring but evolving presence of self-help cultures and the pursuit of wellness in U.S. history.
    Professional Affiliations:
    • History of Education Society
    • Organization of American Historians
    • American Historical Association
    • History of Education Quarterly (external reviewer)
    Recent Presentations/Exhibits:
    • “Cultural Feminism, Family Values, and Natural Motherhood in the 1970s and 1980s U.S.,” American Society for Environmental History, San Francisco, CA - March 2014

    • “One-Worldism, Bilingual Education, and Conservatism in Postwar California,” Organization of American Historians, Atlanta, GA - April 2014

    • “Historians Off the Page,” Roundtable participant, History of Education Society, Nashville, TN - November 2013

    • “Defining Family, Defining Nation: Gender and Patriotism in 1960s California,” Activism and Scholarship: A Conference Honoring Amy Swerdlow and Gerda Lerner, Sarah Lawrence Women’s History Conference, Bronxville, NY - March 2013

    • “Innovation Presentation: HealthClass2.0” AshokaU Exchange, San Diego, CA - February 2013

    • “In Defense of the Family: Parents, Teachers, Taxes, and Sex Education,” Society for United States Intellectual History, New York, NY [cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy] - November 2012

    • “Transformative Arts and Health Education: Promoting Health and Wellness through University-Community Partnerships and Culturally Relevant Narrative,” Imagining America Conference, New York, NY - October 2012

    • “Fear of a ‘One-World Child:’ Bilingualism and Conservatism in Cold War California,” History of Education Society, Chicago, IL - November 2011

    • “Public Education, Family Values, and the Roots of the Culture Wars, 1968-1980,” Organization of American Historians, Houston, TX - March 2011

    • “Constructing Family Values: Parents, Teachers, Taxes, and Sex Education in Contemporary American” and Panelist, “How Historians Research, Write, and Publish: The Art of Crafting Dissertations and Books in Educational History,” History of Education Society, Boston, MA - November 2010

    • “The Secret History of Bilingual Education,” History of Education Society, Philadelphia, PA - October 2009
    Awards and Honors:
    • Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room Writer, New York Public Library, 2014-15
    • Recipient, Faculty Research Fund, 2014-15 ($5,000)
    •  Rockefeller Foundation/ TheNew School Collaborative Innovation Grant for HealthClass2.0 2013-15
    • Civic Engagement Faculty Mini-Grants, Three-time Grantee 2011-13

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