Biography

Robert Korstad is a Professor of Public Policy Studies and History. His research interests include twentieth century U. S. history, labor history, African American history, and contemporary social policy. He teaches one of Hart Leadership’s Research Service-Learning (RSL) gateway courses, “The Insurgent South,” which examines social movements in the South from Reconstruction to the present.

Professor Korstad came to Duke in 1978 for a six-month fellowship with history professors Bill Chafe and Lawrence Goodwyn. The Duke History professors offered advice and encouragement as Korstad pondered his professional career options. At Chafe’s urging, Korstad enrolled in a Ph.D. program in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had also received his undergraduate degree. At the same time he was completing his first book, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, Korstad co-directed a major documentary research project at the Center for Documentary Studies, called Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South.

From 1995-2001, Korstad served as director of the Hart Leadership Program. He emphasized academic scholarship and research and was instrumental in the creation of the Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) and Hart Fellows programs. In 2003, his book Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South, was published by the University of North Carolina Press. His historical account of Terry Sanford’s efforts to alleviate poverty across the state, To Right These Wrongs: The North Carolina Fund and the Battle to End Poverty and Inequality in 1960s America, was published in 2010.

Korstad continues to teach and conduct research in the Sanford School of Public Policy, and is still closely affiliated with the Hart Leadership Program.

Korstad said his work as a historian and mentor to young people ultimately comes back to his belief that all citizens have an obligation “to understand the limitations of the status quo and be able to imagine a more just society. I think it is vital that we have more people exercising leadership who have an opportunity to live full and meaningful lives.”