Were you a history major when first attending college? Why or why not?
No, I majored in psychology. But I liked history courses best. So when I decided to become a college professor, it was an easy decision to jump into history.
How would you describe your interest of history in a single sentence?
The study of history develops a discerning mind, the ability to perceive less obvious features of our present situation than are apparent to the casual eye.
What is your favorite historical location and why?
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana). Because it's about life and death, empire, hubris, a clash of civilizations, and a mystery. And because from the top of Battle Ridge you can see the Bighorn Mountains 60 miles to the west.
What was your favorite band growing up as a kid?
The best progressive rock band of the 1970s: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. On YouTube, listen to "From the Beginning" and "Tarkus" (all 20:34 of it). Then fall down and weep that you didn't grow up in the '70s.
Would you rather fight a duck that is 100x its normal size or fight 10,000 normal-sized ducks?
I dunno. I know I'd rather get down off a duck than down off an elephant. (This joke was funny before Vietnam and Richard Nixon made everyone cynical and all.)
What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you while teaching?
Being named Illinois Professor of the Year in 2010 was cool. I got a great nickname out of it: my wife and kids call me "Miss Illinois." Probably to remind me of my importance in the world.
Seriously, though, the best thing that came from this honor was the hundreds of congratulatory emails and letters I got from former students. Almost all of them told me what they learned from taking my courses. That's a kind of feedback professors rarely get. It meant so much to me to hear how they are using their history training out in the world.
(Profile by history intern Julia Meyer '18)