Brian D. Behnken

Associate Professor, History and Latino/a Studies; Affiliate Faculty, African and African American Studies


Office:631 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


My research interests are concentrated on the history of the African American and Mexican American communities in the twentieth century United States, with an emphasis on civil rights activism and comparative race relations. Additionally, I study racial violence, law enforcement, popular culture, and nationalism as they related to black and Latino/a people.

I have published two monographs and three edited volumes. My first book, Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas (University of North Carolina Press, 2011), examined the dual and often separate black and Mexican American freedom struggles in Texas, identifying the causes of black-brown disunity in the state. I followed up on this comparative work with an edited collection, The Struggle in Black and Brown: African American and Mexican American Relations during the Civil Rights Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2012). This book brought together a number of prominent historians to examine the theme of African American/Mexican American relations across the United States. My most recent edited collection focuses on a similar subject matter, albeit this time expanding the focus beyond Mexican Americans to the broader Latino/a community. This collection, Civil Rights and Beyond: African American and Latino/a Activism in the Twentieth Century United States, was recently published by the University of Georgia Press. I co-wrote my other monograph, Racism in the American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito (Praeger Publishers, 2015), with my colleague Gregory D. Smithers (Virginia Commonwealth University).

I have also coauthored an edited volume with my colleague Simon Wendt (University of Frankfurt). This volume, Crossing Boundaries: Ethnicity, Race, and National Belonging in a Transnational World (Lexington Books, 2013), and the Racism in the American Popular Media book both expanded my research interests to the subfields of nationalism and popular culture. My current book project is entitled Brown and Blue: Mexican Americans, Law Enforcement, and Civil Rights. This book explores the history of the Mexican American community and its relationship with police agencies in the Southwest from the 19th century to the early 21st century. I also serve on the editorial board of The Journal of Civil and Human Rights (which I helped found), The Journal of American Ethnic History, and The Pacific Historical Review, and I edit the book series Racism in American Institutions for Praeger Publishers.