Melissa Winn: “Don’t Be Afraid to be Right”

To kick off Women’s History Month, I took some time to do a podcast interview with Melissa Winn, the director of photography for HistoryNet. Melissa is the one in charge of all the great photos you see in Civil War Times and America’s Civil War, although she also oversees a photography department and works with three photo editors who produce images for nine different history magazines.

My interview with Melissa is available on the ECW YouTube page by clicking here or as a downloadable podcast (by clicking here).

However, in the spirit of Women’s History Month, I want to call special attention to some advice Melissa offered as we headed into the home stretch of our interview (my question came at 54:58, for those tracking): “Before we run out of time, let me just ask one quick question to wrap up: If you had advice to give to a young woman who was thinking about getting into the history field—Civil War history, in particular—what advice might you offer?”

Melissa Winn:

First of all go for it. And don’t be afraid to ask questions

I mean, this will be a larger answer, but I think in some ways females are conditioned by society not to ask questions, or to be ashamed that they have to ask a question. And I would say, walk up to people and ask questions.

People will embrace your knowledge, and if they don’t, that’s them not you. I think that’s probably the biggest factor that women in any sort of field face. This really is still a male-dominated field. I mean, it is. There are plenty of times, where I’m on a Zoom, and I’m the only female. I think I’m lucky that [Editors] Dana [Shoaf] and Chris [Howland] and [Art Director] Brian [Walker]—to those guys, I’m just a person. They treat me like a person with a brain and creative ideas, and I don’t ever feel like I’m the only female on the Zoom.

But I think when you’re young and you’re starting out, it’s easy to see yourself as the only female in a class, or the only female on a Zoom, or the only female pursuing military tactics when the rest of them are men. I remember being in philosophy classes, and I’d be the only female in that class, and I was like, “Why is this? Why aren’t there any other females here?”

A part of it is just confidence. You know, you might be the only one, but there are a lot of females that have already trudged the road. People like Megan Kate Nelson you know or Caroline Janney.

They are brilliant, and they are smart. And I’ve definitely noticed, on social media, they’ll answer questions, too. Suzannah Ural: ask her a question, and she’ll answer it. And they’ll give you advice to as to how to go forward. They’ve already done it, so it can be done.

As a follow-up to our discussion, Melissa emailed me one final bit of advice to share:

I think I would add for women, not only “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” but also, “Don’t be afraid to be right.” In a male-dominated field, men’s voices are bolder and often more-confident. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions and corrections and stand behind them! Hold your voice, ladies!

ECW will have more for Women’s History Month as March marches onward, so stay tuned.

5 Responses to Melissa Winn: “Don’t Be Afraid to be Right”

    1. You had the courage to re-start and re-invent yourself. That’s pretty awesome.

  1. Meg: Don’t worry about being old! Doesn’t matter any more than that other issue when you’re good and you’re contributing. Just keep on doing!

  2. That’s wonderful advice you are giving the younger generation. Be willing to have an open mind about all things. Consider why people feel the way they do and always try to understand where people are coming from.

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