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Eric Denby

Profile picture for Eric Denby

Office Hours

No office hours
PhD Candidate
Instructor of History & Social Sciences, Phillips Academy


As a social historian of modern U.S. history, I work at the intersection of sexuality, social protest movements, and youth culture.  My research and teaching draw from multiple fields, including African American history, LGBTQ history, public history, urban history, women’s and gender studies, and masculinity studies

My dissertation, All We Want to Do Is Survive:  Queer Youth Organizing in the United States, 1970 to 1995, examines the earliest known gay and lesbian youth groups in the United States and their fight for societal acceptance.  My research intervenes in the historical narrative of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement by focusing on the youthful activists and organizers who have typically been either overlooked or treated as tertiary actors in the movement’s struggles.  Specifically, I focus on three organizations – Gay Youth of New York, Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor, and the Boston Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Youth – to trace their formation, actions, successes, and failures, all revealing a contoured history of youth-led protest.  Using archival sources, mainstream and alternative press, and oral interviews, I argue that these peer-led youth groups were instrumental to the overall gay and lesbian rights movement after the Stonewall Rebellion, providing templates of protest and organization for other youth groups nationwide.  My work also contributes to recent scholarship, emphasizing age as a category of analysis.  By placing gay and lesbian teenagers at the center of the story, I legitimize their political and sexual agency against the backdrop of the liberatory 1970s and the conservative backlash of the 1980s.

Prior to pursuing my college education, I held a variety of positions in marketing, communications, public relations, and sales. I spent the majority of my career in the music industry, mainly as an in-house talent buyer for national and regional entertainment and as a morning show host on 92.1 The Edge (East Lansing, MI).

Research Interests

LGBTQ Social and Political Movements
LGBTQ Youth Organizing
Modern U.S. History
Women, Gender, & Sexuality
US and the World


Master of Arts, History, Western Michigan University (2015)

Bachelor of Science, History, Central Michigan University (2012)


ONE Archives Foundation LGBTQ Research Fellowship, University of Southern California
Don Kelly Research Collection Grant, Texas A&M
The Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History Travel Grant, Duke University 
The Virginia Karnes Archives and Special Collections Travel Grant, Purdue University
The Bordin-Gillette Fellowship, Bentley Historical Library
The Elmer L. Anderson Research Scholarship, University of Minnesota
History Department Summer Pre-Dissertation Research Travel Grant, University of Illinois 
Graduate College Dissertation Travel Grant, University of Illinois

Awards and Honors

2022 Widenor Teaching Fellow, Dept. of History (University of Illinois)

2019 College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by a Graduate Teaching Assistant (University of Illinois)

2019 John G. and Evelyn Hartman Heiligenstein Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (University of Illinois)

List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent based on ICES Scores, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2021 (University of Illinois)

Graduate Teacher Certificate, Center for Innovation in Learning & Teaching, (University of Illinois)


Courses Taught

Instructor of Record
HIST101: History Now, "LGBT Civil Rights from the Streets to the Supreme Court" (Spring 2018)
HIST200: Intro to Historical Interpretation, "A Queer United States" (Spring 2022)
HIST203: Reacting to the Past: "US Riots, Revolutions, and Revolts" (Fall 2016, Fall 2020, Fall 2021)
HIST273:  Illinois History (Summer 2021, 2022, 2023)
HIST392:  The 1960s in the United States (Fall 2022)
HIST498:  Capstone Writing & Research Seminar:  "A Queer United States" (Spring 2022) 

Teaching Assistant
HIST104:  Black Music (Spring 2019)
HIST171: US History to 1877 (Fall 2015)
HIST172: US History Since 1877 (Spring 2016)
HIST281:  Constructing Race in America (Spring 2021)