• Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela

    Associate Professor of History; Director of the First Year Program


    I am a scholar, writer, teacher, and activist. As Associate Professor of History at The New School, I study the politics and culture of the modern United States and am especially fascinated by issues of gender, race, identity, and class. My first book, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture (Oxford, 2015), explores the roots of the culture wars in American public schools, specifically amid heated battles over sexuality and bilingual education. My current book project - FIT NATION: How Americans Embraced Exercise As the Government Abandoned It - traces the rise of “fitness culture” since the 1950s, asking how and why Americans have increasingly linked fitness regimes to the pursuit of self-fulfillment even as access to affordable and free fitness has declined. These scholarly pursuits are closely linked to my activist work in schools, other community institutions, and the fitness profession.

    I also believe the public benefits from more historical insights, and I am a co-host of the weekly history podcast Past Present. My writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, Well+Good, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Refinery29, and The Huffington Post. I’ve been featured as an expert historian in diverse media venues such as TimeOut London, Newsmax, Brian Lehrer TV, The History Channel, and The Atlantic. My work ihas been covered by many publications including The Guardian, Well+Good, Univision and Fox 5 NY. Find more about my scholarly and popular work at my website.

    Degrees Held:

    PhD, 2009, History, Stanford University
    MA, 2004, History, Stanford University
    BA, 2000, History, Columbia College 

    Professional Affiliations:

    Society for U.S. Intellectual History
    History of Education Society
    Organization of American Historians
    American Historical Association

    Recent Publications:


    Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, Oxford University Press, 2015 (paperback 2017)

    Peer-Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters

    “An Intellectual History of the Gym, (Thanks, Gender!),” in Haberski, Raymond and Andrew Hartman, eds., No Things But in Ideas: United States Intellectual History, under editorial review.

    “Sex, Spirituality, and the Popularization of Yoga in Modern America” [under review]

    “HealthClass2.0: Crossing Boundaries Through Campus-Based Civic Engagement,” Anthropology Now, Vol. 7 No. 2

    “Revisiting the Rightward Turn: Max Rafferty, Education, and Modern American Politics,” The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture, Vol. 6, No.2.

    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

    “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.

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

    “A Different Kind of Women’s Movement: Group Fitness, Accidental Entrepreneurship, and the Creation of a Third Space” [IN PROGRESS]

    “Unequal Cousins: The Fall of Public P.E. and the Rise of the Private Fitness Industry” [IN PROGRESS]

    Selected Online Essays

    Performances And Appearances:

    For a complete selection of recent performances and media appearances, please visit my media page.

    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.

    Awards And Honors:

    Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies Research Grant (2016-17)

    Provost’s Office Faculty Research Fund (2016-17)

    Mellon Foundation Civic Humanities Pedagogy Grant (with Verso Books) (2016-17)

    Roy A. Hunt Foundation Grant for HealthClass2.0 (2014-16)               

    Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room Writer, New York Public Library (2014-15)              

    Provost’s Office Faculty Research Fund, The New School (2014-15)               

    Multiple Civic Engagement and Social Justice Grants (2012-14)                     

    Rockefeller Foundation/New School for Public Engagement Collaborative Innovation Grant for HealthClass2.0 (2013-15)       

    Mrs. Giles M. Whiting Foundation Dissertation Fellow (2008-09)         

    Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Summer Seminar Fellow, “Sequels to the Sixties,” Cambridge, MA (2008)

    Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Dissertation Fellow (relinquished) (2007-08)           

    Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow (2007-08)

    Centennial Award for Excellence in Teaching, Stanford University (2004)


    Current Courses:

    Fit Nation (Spring 2020)

    Independent Senior Project

    Independent Senior Project (Spring 2020)

    Independent Study

    Independent Study (Spring 2020)

    Senior Thesis Seminar

    Teaching & Learning Seminar

    Teaching Learning Seminar II

    Teaching Learning Seminar III