Chair’s Welcome: Dr. Gretchen Heefner
Welcome to the History Department at Northeastern! We are a small and vibrant community of scholars and teachers devoted to helping our community understand how studying the past plays a role in creating just and meaningful futures. As chair, I am fortunate to work with award winning and innovative scholars whose work spans the world (and sometimes reaches up into outer space). Spend enough time in Meserve Hall and you might hear stories of smuggling policies in 20thcentury China; the hidden work of female African American activists across 19th century New England; or how a glass of beer can help us understand global connections. That is just a small taste. I invite you to peruse our faculty profiles to get better acquainted with the fabulous work we do.
In addition to being outstanding scholars, the history faculty are highly regarded teachers. Many have been nominated for teaching awards. Our classrooms are spaces of open dialogue and debate, where diverse ideas are welcome and critical thinking is encouraged. The study of history fosters the analytical, logistical, and rhetorical skills most needed in the 21stcentury. In each of our classes you will find deep engagement with fact and evidence, a commitment to constructive communication and questioning, and hopefully a bit of fun. You will also tell and hear stories; beautiful, vibrant, messy, violent, always stunning, complicated stories that make up our shared past. Stories that help us cultivate an appreciation of human difference and resilience. History helps us grapple with the messy contradictions of our every day, providing new ways of seeing, knowing, and communicating about a constantly shifting world.
World history and public history anchor our department, yet department faculty are deeply integrated into a number of different Northeastern initiatives that provide unique opportunities for our students. For example, in 2023-24 our faculty hold leadership positions in the Humanities Center, the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures, programs inGlobal Asian Studies, and Health, Humanities and Society, as well as the college’s Digital Humanities initiatives. Because of this, our students have ready access to opportunities through these interdisciplinary spaces. We also have a number of combined majors that provide novel opportunities, including with Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and International Affairs. Please refer to the catalogue for a complete list.
Regardless of how you find your way to history and Meserve Hall, you will discover that the heart of history at Northeastern is original, primary source research. At both the graduate and undergraduate level, our students are encouraged to find their passions and dive in. Whether that means creating a data visualization of labor and gender in historic Boston mills, writing an article about the Hajj across Northern Africa, or conducting original research in Louisiana to find out about medical practices in enslaved communities, our students can pursue their intellectual interests. Refer to the list of History Department essay award winners for a sense of the topics our students pursue. Many of our students are driven by locating the origins of an issue today; or bringing historical data and evidence to bear on current problems. The ties that link us all across fields and eras is simple: a commitment to finding and assessing evidence, parsing fact from fiction, cultivating empathy for subjects and events we may not agree with, providing critical analysis of actions and outcomes, and—in the end –being able to ask good questions and provide constructive feedback.
Our graduate students at the PhD and master’s levels bring new energy and excitement to the department every year. Each spring they host a world history graduate student conference that features student presentations and outside speakers. They are engaged with dozens of different research programs on campus, museum work, individual research projects, digital humanities programming, and teaching.
There are many ways to get involved with the department in addition to some of what is listed above. Our undergraduates run a fabulous club, NUHA. We hold monthly works-in-progress talks that feature Northeastern and Boston-area scholars. Feel free to check out the department events calendar that is updated frequently with talks, events, and other opportunities that we think will be of interest to those who share a passion for history. You can always drop by and chat with our amazing administrative team, Jacquaetta Hester and Grace Dolan (candy and good conversation are often on offer!) And, of course, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
All the best,
Dr. Gretchen Heefner
Chair and Associate Professor of History
Gretchen Heefner teaches and researches the history of the U.S. in the world, with a focus on militarization, the environment, and the surprisingly intimate relations between national security regimes and the everyday. Her current research, “From …