Sarah Milov is an assistant professor in the Corcoran Department of History. Her research focuses on 20th century American political economy, and she joined the College’s faculty last fall following a term as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for History and Economics. A former postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco, Milov is completing a book manuscript titled, “Growing the Cigarette: Tobacco Production, Consumption, and Regulation from the Grassroots.” Her book argues that the cigarette was not produced in spite of consumer, health and environmental regulations but by the government itself. Milov received her Ph.D. and M.A. from Princeton University and holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.
Running, hiking, swimming and riding my bike.
How did you spend last summer preparing for your first semester teaching at U.Va.?
I moved to a new city; moved into a new house—specifically, a house with its own washer, dryer, and dishwasher (the holy trinity of domestic convenience). Oh, I also got a dog, began a new job, and got married. I’ve been busy.
Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to hear.
I find New Age music incredibly (and embarrassingly) soothing. It is my favorite thing to listen to while I work.
Who is your greatest hero, and why?
I don’t really have heroes. But as a historian, I am constantly encountering characters from the past who have exhibited tremendous strength, wisdom and grace, which are traits that I admire. Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who was instrumental in drawing national attention to black organizing and anti-black violence in Mississippi, combined strength and humanity. I also have a soft spot for Woody Guthrie, who used his art to make plain people and poor people more visible.
Tell us about your most embarrassing moment.
On my sixteenth birthday, I partook of the modern American coming of age ritual: the driver’s license exam. I thought I had everything under control, but my nerves got the better of me when I was asked to do a three-point turn. Three points turned into five; five points turned into seven. And all of a sudden (well, honestly, it must have happened quite slowly) I ran the car into the chain link fence bounding the DMV parking lot. I knew that I had failed the test then and there. I could accept that.
What makes this story embarrassing is not failing the test. When I pulled out of the fence, my exhaust pipe was dragging on the ground, having gotten lodged in the fence upon impact. What followed was a sad drive of shame: a few miles to the nearest repair shop that could accommodate an antique Volvo with sparks flying from the tailpipe behind me, and my mom in the passenger seat next to me.
What is the best place you’ve ever lived or visited, and why?
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It’s beautiful and hard to get to. The difficulty of getting there probably makes it seem more beautiful.
Thinking about the role of technology in education, what will the U.Va. learning experience be like in 2030?
In the humanities, more classes will be focused on examining the social aspects of science and technology. Perhaps Science, Technology and Society (STS), which is currently a program in the engineering school, will become an integral part of a 21st century humanities curriculum.
However crucial computer technologies become for both work and daily life, I think that the traditional campus-bound, classroom-centered college experience will still be an important part of undergraduate life. It’s a cultural touchstone in America that won’t be easily dislodged by MOOCs or podcasts or online universities—at least not for the types of students who matriculate at U.Va.
Since arriving, what have you most enjoyed most about Charlottesville and U.Va.?
How easy it is to walk or bike wherever I need to go. I feel like I am really able to understand the shape of the city and community. Also coming from San Francisco and Cambridge, the rent.
If money were no object, what else would you like to pursue?
I’d try to pursue my same intellectual and professional goals—only with nicer things and better summer vacations.
What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?
Do the reading. Take a variety of courses. Participate in class (it makes the class more fun). And you know that excited feeling that you have the first week of classes? Remember it, and bring that level of openness and enthusiasm to all of your academic endeavors.