Joshua Robinaugh

History student who researches slavery in the medieval Islamic world earns Dean’s Medal

By

Rachel Bunning

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Joshua Robinaugh grew up in Lone Tree, Colorado, but moved to Mesa, Arizona, in 2010 where he has lived ever since. And since enrolling at Arizona State University to obtain his bachelor’s in history, he has been an active member of the community. 

He was the undergraduate representative for Phi Alpha Theta, an American honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history, the vice president of Eta Sigma Phi, a collegiate honor society for the study of classics, and he completed an undergraduate research experience during his junior year. 

He was a research assistant for assistant professor of history Hannah Barker to help create a pedagogical resource for pre-mordern slavery. Barker was a great mentor to him during his studies and is on Robinaugh’s committee for his thesis, “Race, Color, and Enslaveability: An Analysis of Slave Buying Manuals in the Medieval Islamic World.”

In addition to his scholastic involvement in the university, Robinaugh also served as a community assistant for university housing and worked as a course grader for Global Launch on campus.  

He is the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies’ Dean’s Medalist this semester, and we caught up with him to ask him about his time at ASU.

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Answer: I absolutely love to rock climb, I work at a climbing gym in the area and am in love with both the sport and the community. I also love to run and had the privilege to run the Phoenix Marathon in the February of 2020 before the pandemic hit. I have not done much running recently because of an injury, but I am hoping to get out there again soon. Also, I really love coffee, worked at Starbucks as a supervisor and barista for a couple years and have a caffeine addiction that fuels my life.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

A: During my sophomore year of college, I took a class from Dr. Hannah Barker called HST 349: Early Middle Ages. I could not cite any particular moment when I knew that I wanted to study history. However, over the course of this class I realized how much I loved history and the study of history and wanted to pursue this as a degree and potentially a career.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: During my senior year of high school, I had actually decided early that year to go to Northern Arizona University and had not even applied to ASU. However, as the year went on I had a couple opportunities to visit a friend who was living on campus. During these visits, I was exposed to the campus and became aware of the wealth of resources and opportunities available on campus, if you knew where to find them.

Q:  Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Hannah Barker taught me probably the most important lesson I learned at ASU. This was during my junior year when I wanted to drop GER 101: Elementary German I in favor of taking GER 550: German for Reading Knowledge. However, I was rather nervous about incurring another ‘W’ on my transcript. So, I went to speak to her about it. The thing she said is that if going to GER 101 was making me miserable or making my life substantially worse, then I ought to drop the course and prioritize myself in that way.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I struggle to decide on just one piece of advice, so I suppose I will supply two. The first one is to actually attend and make use of office hours. This may sound cliché as almost everyone gives this advice. However, I would emphasize this as it has provided me a wealth of opportunities, assistance and contributed incredibly positively to my experience as an undergraduate. Second, I would emphasize prioritizing yourself and your self-care. Since halfway through sophomore year, I have either worked full-time or multiple part-time jobs while attending school full-time. This became incredibly draining and difficult more than once throughout undergrad. But, the only thing that got me through junior year was taking this time for myself, prioritizing my self-care and trying to be conscious of when I was not doing so in an effective manner. It can be incredibly difficult to do so in college, but I think it is important to acknowledge that there is more to life than your career and academic success and yourself is certainly important. Additionally, if you do not successfully take care of yourself, it can be very difficult to properly succeed in your career and academics.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot used to be a desk behind the stacks in the old version of the Hayden Library. However, they have since taken that away and rebuilt that portion of Hayden. And unfortunately, I do not love the new renovations. But, before the pandemic, I found a couple new locations I really have enjoyed. First, the outside table on the fourth floor of Lattie F. Coor was great when it was nice outside. Second, there were some nice tables within Coor Hall if you knew or know where to find them. COVID-19 has obviously changed all of that and since then I have had to make my own desk work.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: For me, that is kind of a difficult question. I am currently trying to decide between working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for the next year while I work some things out, attending a master’s degree at ASU this fall, or both! That being said, I am strongly leaning towards just working as a CNA for the year and taking some time to breathe. Ultimately though, my plan is to attend an MD program, PhD program or one of the programs that is both combined with the PhD being in the history of medicine and science.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Oh boy, that’s an incredibly difficult thing to even consider. I struggle to even begin on that. I think as of today, I would donate it to continue to try and return our world to some sense of normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic. Primarily, I think this money would be well-utilized in parts of the globe that have not yet had the same access to vaccines and large public health programs like we have here in the U.S. In a non-pandemic world though, I think I would donate the money to programs that are helping to solve terrible racial inequalities that exist within the borders of our own country. These issues were incredibly highlighted and punctuated by the events following George Floyd’s death over the course of the summer of 2020. These are issues that we need to tackle as citizens of the country and if I was given this money in a world without a pandemic, I feel like this would be at least one great use of the money.