Doctoral student awarded national fellowship

Adam Mertz, a University of Illinois at Chicago doctoral student in history.

Adam Mertz, doctoral student in history.

Adam Mertz, a doctoral student in history, is one of five scholars to receive a $25,000 dissertation fellowship from the Center for Engaged Scholarship.

The nationally competitive grant supports Ph.D. students in the social sciences whose work is of “high quality and that has the potential to contribute to making U.S. society less unequal, more democratic, and more environmentally sustainable.”

Mertz studies 20th century U.S. labor and seeks to understand the contemporary rural and urban geo-political divide. His dissertation examines the rise of Wisconsin teacher unions in relation to the state’s farmers, businesses, private-sector unions and politicians during the 1970s.

A 1970 farm-labor alliance initially united rural and urban interests to oppose the spread of large corporate farms throughout Wisconsin and helped to elect a two-term Democratic governor.

“By decade’s end, the increased power and political activism of Wisconsin’s teacher unions, along with rampant inflation and the pressures of suburban sprawl, including highway construction, significantly increased property taxes and compelled farmers to sell their land,” Mertz said.

“These changes strained and eventually dissolved Wisconsin’s farm-labor coalition, because members of the farmer organizations believed that private-
sector unions — their previous coalition partners — sided with the same public sector unions that contributed to the loss of farmlands.”

The past partnership demonstrates that rural and small-town residents do not inherently oppose unions or other social democratic institutions and policies, Mertz said.

“Rather, historical forces and past choices constructed those particular positions, an understanding that provides hope for the future rebuilding of a progressive rural-urban alliance,” he said.

Mertz, who is originally from Seymour, Wisconsin, received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a master’s degree in history from Marquette University.