Sarah Doenmez - Academic Dean


Why do I teach and what do I love about History? I teach because I love to explore ideas and questions, and hear students' ideas developing. I love to see students get enchanted with History when many assume it will be boring, and get excited about issues in the world around us, and ask about their roots. Students come to realize that all aspects of human experience have historical dimensions to them, and that we gain insight rom literature, art, music, and science as well as the more usual historical sources.

History is the field that wrestles with time and our development over time. This is a fundamental struggle for all people: we are finite, times passes, change occurs. Also, both the best and worst aspects of our collective existence are the result of particular stories and developments. Nothing is inevitable about the way we currently live, or about how we will develop in the future. I began looking into history because I was so pained at the existence of things like the Shoah and nuclear weapons and needed to know how and maybe even why evil had prevailed. I have found in this search that so many fascinating questions are embedded in and enlightened by history. History is the best because it encompasses all other fields!  Perhaps too history can help us answer questions like, "How much do I matter in the world?"

What animates me? The process of becoming a freer human being. Watching young people grow wings, gain strength and freedom as they grow skilled and confident. Learning. Trying to contribute to a better world. It sounds corny, but....

What do I do outside of school that enhances my teaching? Read. Travel. Talk with people from other cultures and places. Learn new things myself. Help raise my children. Music. 

What might surprise my students? I speak four languages plus a couple of fragments of others. I ran a a marathon last year and hope to again this year. I watch a lot of soccer with my family. I played in a women's league for five years and quit when I scored my first goal!

What's unusual in the way I approach my subject? Well, I am more interested in big ideas than in dates, etc. Is that unusual? Also, I feel history is not over. Peoples all over the world live in ways we might view as ancient, or promodern, or in mixtures of ways. The events in our collective past influence us all whether we are aware of it or not too, so they live on in our language, our assumptions, out cultural patterns. I also like to pose History Mysteries. I also am very aware of how much I don't know and we don't know, which I think helps students feel how much they can contribute to our collective wisdom.

Pushing kids outside their comfort zone? I mix things up. We don't do the same thing every day. Students don't only use their customary strengths; everyone also has to do things they're less confident about. That way we all grow.

I also ask students to do things they've never done before. For a small example, we learned Chinese characters while studying China. They wrote way longer research papers than they expected to. 

Why is it fun to be in my classroom? Because learning is an adventure we embark on together! Everyone learns from everyone; everyone contributes; everyone listens. I am open to students' questions and interests, and often ask their input into decisions about what we will study or how. I do try to be sensitive to the mood of the group and be sure my class is exciting. We do things like listen to music of different times or places, invite guest speakers, take field trips, eat foods from other cultures, pay attention to the news involving the areas we're studying. 

The most surprising thing in my classroom? Maybe students dancing an Irish jig on the table for extra credit? Or inventing a language to go with the civilization she created? Last year a student had a major original insight that could form the basis of a doctoral dissertation, (that Nazi antisemitism was linked to antisemitism in the Roman Empire) - but that's not so unusual. 

Maybe it's the atmosphere of openness. We talk about anything and everything, and many students seem surprised that history class can wind up feeling so relevant and meaningful. Is that presumptuous?