Meet Victoria Thompson, Chair of the School of History and Sociology

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Although we might pause occasionally to appreciate an aesthetic view, most city dwellers fail to consider how urban spaces help us build a sense of who we are, the culture we live in, and the roles we can play in society at large.  

Victoria Thompson, who began her new role as chair of the School of History and Sociology at Georgia Tech on July 1, is passionate about exploring these questions in her scholarship and the classroom.  

“The urban landscape isn’t neutral — it has power,” said Thompson. “It influences how people think about things like power and politics, democracy and human rights, and who gets a say in these things and who doesn’t.” 

The skills and perspective students gain from learning and thinking critically about the past are vital for the 21st century, especially for students at a STEM- and technology-intensive institution, Thompson said. 

“Historians and sociologists study all of the context for technological innovation. It’s where we get our knowledge about how people use technology and what their practices are — from how an innovation might be used, to how that can change over time, to how new technology can change our culture.”  

Thompson says she was drawn to the Ivan Allen College and Georgia Tech because here, teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences are considered an invaluable and necessary part of technological and scientific innovation and advancement.  

“One thing I want to do is help build interdisciplinary connections for the School. We have an amazing faculty doing really interesting work, and I’m excited to help foster new conversations and opportunities for partnerships, programs, and more.” 

In her research on 18th- and 19th-century Paris, Thompson uses a combined cultural and social history approach that examines historical images, popular novels, letters, and city spaces to understand how people of that time thought and lived.  

“We tell ourselves stories about the spaces that we live in, where important things have happened in our lives, and we attach meaning and significance to those spaces and how they fit together,” said Thompson. “What I try to do is take that idea, which I think students can relate to, and then help them think about how people did that in the past.” 

Thompson also encourages students to reflect on the similarities and differences between historical and modern society, while keeping the focus on the past. She uses historical images to start the conversation. 

“Students are adept at deciphering images in ways that often surprise me,” she said. “Hopefully, you whet their appetites, so they want to know more — and you get them to think about images and pop culture critically, instead of just absorbing them.” 

In particular, she finds political cartoons, which became popular in the 18th century, help her students connect with more abstract concepts like democracy, monarchy, revolution, and individual rights. 

“Historical images are a great way to bring students into the past and let them reflect upon the differences and make the connection with the present, without making it all about the present,” she said. “It gets them thinking about how culture influences the way people understand and justify their political system and their role in society.”  

Thompson joined the School of History and Sociology from Arizona State University, where she held positions including co-director of the Institute for Humanities Research and associate professor of history. In her spare time, she likes gardening and reading fiction. After 24 years of living in Phoenix, Thompson says she’s enjoying the lush Atlanta city landscape. During the rest of the summer, she’s looking forward to exploring Atlanta’s many parks with her dogs, Meyer and Benny. 

“I want greenery,” she said. “We visited Atlanta about a year and a half ago. We were standing outside, and I couldn’t quite place this fragrance in the air. My husband said, ‘Those are plants,’ and I thought, OK, I need to get out of the desert.”


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Stephanie Kadel
  • Created:07/12/2023
  • Modified By:mpearson34
  • Modified:07/13/2023


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