John McKerley

Adjunct Assistant Professor of History
Adjunct Lecturer in Human Rights

John McKerley is the oral historian at the University of Iowa Labor Center, College of Law, where he manages the Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP), a forty-year-old oral history project focused on the lives of Iowa workers.

His interests in human rights teaching and research include workers' rights as human rights, the experience of recent immigrants and refugees, digital and public-facing scholarship, the relationship between "civil" and human rights, and the role of archival methods, oral history, and the documentary arts (particularly photography) in making claims related to human rights.

In the early 2000s, John served as a delegate from the United Electrical Workers (UE) union to three international "convergences" organized around public-sector workers' rights in Mexico, Canada, and the United States. In 2005, he was part of a delegation that supported a complaint filed by the UE with the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, against the state of North Carolina for violating international labor law.

In 2015, John received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, to support a documentary project focused on recent immigrant and refugee meatpacking workers in Iowa and Illinois. That work is now part of the AFC's Occupational Folklife Project. (

John's work has also been recognized and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Reference Services Division of the American Library Association, Humanities Iowa, the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


John received his PhD in history from the University of Iowa in 2008.

His publications include a co-edited volume of oral histories from the collections at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement (University of Illinois, 2009), and a co-edited volume of essays, Civic Labors: Scholar Activism and Working-Class Studies (Illinois, 2016).

In 2020, he launched a podcast and audio documentary series, "Speaking of Work," which draws on ILHOP interviews to explore "the everyday and extraordinary stories of Midwestern workers, past and present." More information and links to episodes can be found at

Courses taught

  • Topics in Human Rights: Epidemic Disease and the Future of Work