History Department Searches for New Early/Native American History Professor

Julia Herbst

The History department is currently undergoing a search to fill the tenure-track position of assistant professor of Early/Native American history. The decision to create this position was due in large part to the impending retirement of long-time Professor of History Gary Kornblith at the end of the academic year.

“What we’ve done in redefining the position is kind of up the ante, increase the importance of Native American [studies],” said History Department Chair Leonard Smith. “Now that said, it’s not an either/or kind of thing. We went to some trouble to ask scholars at other institutions. … It was presented to us that Native American was one of the most active sub-fields within Early American [studies] so there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. Likewise, … in Native American history, the Early period is one of the most intellectually exciting areas. … So we were kind of drawn to this intersection of Native and Early American [studies] as something that brings together a whole array of subspecialties within history itself.”

On Monday, Feb. 6, Assistant Instructor at Princeton University Dr. William Carter, OC ’95, the first candidate, presented a lecture titled “The Hideous and the Beautiful: The Decorated Body in Iroquoia, 1550–1850” to various students and department faculty.

The other two applicants, Matthew Bahar, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma, and Dawn Peterson, visiting lecturer at Smith College, will give talks to faculty and interested students today, Feb. 10, and Monday, Feb. 13, respectively. These lectures will allow the faculty and students a chance to see which candidate will be the best fit for the department. “Every job in the History department is [the same] in the sense that everybody is expected to do a wide range of teaching across a wide range of registers,” said Smith. “So what I would look for is somebody who would have good methodological coverage, good geographical coverage, good chronological coverage and who could do a great job relating to students from the first-year seminar through the senior Honors thesis — at all sorts of intervals.”

After the interviews and visits from the three candidates, the History department will make a recommendation to the dean, Sean Decatur, who serves as the chair of the College Faculty Council and who makes the final decision.

During this process, the opinion of students also plays an important factor. Students who attend the candidate talks are given the opportunity to ask questions as well as fill out surveys rating the candidate. The History department has also elected three student representatives to help in this process.

“As student rep, I’m generating a student perspective on the candidates’ abilities as educators,” said double-degree fifth-year Cory Rogers in an e-mail to the Review. “Mostly, I’m hoping to find a candidate who is easy to talk to and who seems genuinely interested in learning about me, the other student reps, and Oberlin in general. I think this demonstrates a real investment in the lives of students and life here at Oberlin.”