Abigail M. Foerstner is an acclaimed journalism professor at Northwestern University who has written three major books about the University of Iowa, applying her talents toward becoming one of the UI’s most devoted ambassadors.
A celebrated author and assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Foerstner chairs the school’s news reporting department and covers culture and Chicago history for Quintessential New Trier magazine. She has written hundreds of articles on art, photography, science, history, and education for a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune, CityTalk, the Pioneer Press, the Detroit News, Camera Arts, and North Shore.
At Iowa and beyond, Foerstner is renowned for her official biography of UI physics pioneer James Van Allen, 36MS, 39PhD. While on campus for her son's commencement, Foerstner followed the faint whiff of pipe smoke through the open door of Van Allen's office. "This 1972…plotter sat on his desk…and continued to crank out data from Pioneer 10 and half the solar system, spilling the charts right across his lap," she says. "'Somebody has to write a book about this guy,' I thought. And I decided…that the lucky someone might as well be me."
Van Allen gave Foerstner full access to his papers and numerous interviews before his death in 2006. James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles was published by the University of Iowa Press and received several honors, including the Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa. This award was especially meaningful for Foerstner, who also has published a book, Picturing Utopia, about Shambaugh's wife, Bertha Maude Horack Shambaugh, and her work with early photographers in the Amana Colonies.
Foerstner's passion for history was the driving force behind these biographies, as well as her book on the storied UI Museum of Art. It also fuels one of her latest works in progress—a book about Cahokia, an archaeological site in Illinois that was home to the greatest ancient metropolis in North America.
Foerstner collaborated with the UI Libraries on a website that presents the history and role of Van Allen in the 1958 Explorer I satellite mission and is currently writing a book on culture and climate for the UI Press. She also received an honorable mention in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's 2008 Best American Science and Nature Writing issue for her article, "What Van Allen Found in Space," which appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Though she's not a UI graduate, two of her four children attended Iowa, and Foerstner believes that the time she's spent on campus has made her both an honorary student and alumna.
"'Friend' is too mild a word for Abigail," says Holly Cook, former director of the University of Iowa Press. "As professor, author, mentor, and role model extraordinaire, Abigail embodies the highest goals of the University of Iowa: documenting and understanding the past while giving her students the keys to a wide, successful future."
With her love of history, her talent for reporting, and her deep devotion to the UI, Abigail Foerstner has proven herself to be one of the university's most ardent champions.
Foerstner is a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.