Admissions & Aid
Benjamin Adams ’17
Being a history major was absolutely perfect preparation for law school and a legal career beyond that. As academic disciplines, they are strongly related in that they both require a lot of reading, analytical thinking about source materials, and evidence-based writing. So much of law school is about how efficiently and successfully one can use research tools and methods to find relevant sources, and a history background really conditioned me to do that. Moreover, history is about exploring people’s motivations and discerning cause and effect, which is substantively the same underlying inquiry the law engages.
I think we are very fortunate that the history degree requires us to broaden our scope and take classes from a wide range of eras and geographic locales. In law school and the practice of law, you never know what the substance of the next case will be, and flexibility is key. But more than that, I have discovered in my legal jobs that having a general historian’s perspective really assists me in learning about a case or a client. It’s one thing to see a completed case and judicial opinion in the casebooks we read in school, but quite another to construct a case from the ground up, using your client and the evidence as primary sources. The history degree helped me to build those skills.
There are obvious answers to this: Professor Johnson’s Constitutional History course, which was one of the best courses I took at Brooklyn College, certainly helped me to get the highest grade in my first-year Constitutional Law class; the history survey course Shaping of the Modern World is generally helpful and was well taught to me by Professor Troyansky; and the History 2001 class, which I took with Professor Remy, helped with the research and writing tools I mentioned above.
But I think the thing that may surprise people is the amazing writing samples and background research you can get out of other classes. In another class I took with Professor Troyansky, about early modern Europe, I was able to lay the foundation on methods of punishment that I still use in my research now, including for a paper that was published by my law school journal. And I composed papers for a colloquium on Comparative Slavery studies with Professor SenGupta and for Professor Day’s course on Africa Before 1800 that I used as writing samples when a prospective employer asked for nonlegal submissions. The opportunity to engage with unusual or difficult source material in the history department prepares you for the rigors of graduate study, and I highly recommend engaging with a wide variety of courses.
Jonathan Anderson M.A. ’19
Prior to joining Brooklyn College, I struggled to get a full-time job. I had a fair amount of experience, and I even started my own walking tour company, but I couldn’t get a potential employer to take my application seriously. Once I had enrolled, I went full-time within months. I was working as the manager of education at the South Street Seaport Museum. Now that I have my master’s, I have moved on to an even better position at Edge Studio. Brooklyn College has changed my life for the better in more ways than I can count. I am grateful every day for the education, the mentorship, and the community that welcomed me in the History Department. The quality of my life has improved in every way because of my time with Brooklyn College.
This is a really tough question. So many classes that I took were meaningful, or opened my eyes to a culture or a piece of history that I was previously unaware. One of the walking tours that I give through my company, The History Couple, goes through Chinatown and tells the history of the Chinese gangs that become prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New York City. Because of this, my time with Professor Meyer in his Modern China class was particularly useful to me. I was able to develop a better understanding of what was happening in that time period, and why the people I speak about on my tours immigrated to the United States. The result is a well-rounded tour where my visitors can really understand what people were going through. Plus, when people ask me questions about what was going on in China at that time, I look super-duper smart when I can give them detailed answers. Thanks, Professor Meyers!
I don’t think I am able to express through words the gratitude that I feel for this program. Enrolling in Brooklyn College was the best decision I ever made. I have made lasting relationships with both students and faculty, and now that I have graduated, I often find myself missing classes and the intellectual stimulation of graduate-level discussions. Though I miss it, my wife and I recently moved to a new apartment that overlooks the Brooklyn College Library and the new performing arts center. At night that big, pulsating light on the entrance to the performing arts building covers our living room in blues, purples, and greens. While it may freak out our cats, it is a great reminder of the fact that if it were not for Brooklyn College, we could never afford our new place.
Joyce Salame Ashkenazi ’18
My history major from Brooklyn College prepared me for my career as a history teacher in many ways. During my time in the History Department, I read through countless documents, analyzed them individually and as part of a group, and often presented my work to the class. There are many sources I was exposed to as a student that I have saved and incorporated into my lessons as a teacher. At Brooklyn College, we were often encouraged to share our thinking with the rest of the class. This practice gave me insight into the different types of learners and how they are able to make sense of documents through difference processes. I am constantly recalling those instances when incorporating differentiation into my classroom. Most importantly, my history major gave me the confidence to get in front of a group of people and share my thoughts. Through these experiences, I have become my most comfortable self standing in front of a class and leading a lesson.
During my time in the History Department, I was continuously pushed to practice my higher-order thinking skills when evaluating events throughout history. I was encouraged to question and debate the information as opposed to taking it at face value. By taking this approach to study history, not only did it push me to explore different perspectives, it made the subject even more interesting! By feeling like I can contribute to the historiography, I became personally invested in what we were studying. In every unit I teach my class, I am constantly giving my students opportunities to question, critique, and evaluate the information given to them. In fact, many of my classes eventually turn into peaceful debates.
I attended many meaningful history courses, but there are two professors I will never forget. Professor Steven Remy introduced me to my favorite book genre, memoirs. We studied European history through numerous memoirs which gave me an individualized perspective on major European events. Another professor who had a lasting influence on me is Professor Brigid O’Keeffe. I was mesmerized by the way she taught, treated, and interacted with her students. In addition to the notes I took for the class, I always made mental notes of what to do as a teacher through her example. Professor O’Keeffe made me feel intelligent and valuable, which is what I try to do for my students every day.
Violet Barsuk ’14
A history degree equipped me with a very unique skill set that makes me stand out within the financial industry. The ability to be able to read, understand, and analyze data at a fast pace was a skill I picked up in each of my history classes and one I use daily. As a project manager juggling multiple projects at once I have to be able to think quickly and adapt. I also learned to take a 12-page thought and condense it into one page without losing any details. This is something that pays off a lot in my industry because I often report to C -Level executives who have no time to read 12 pages. Networking is very important within the financial industry, and a history degree provided me with the ability to have intelligent conversations at work with people from all over the world. Also, the tons of essays you’re dreading to write now will pay off in the long run because your writing skills will be top notch.
I took a few classes that were required and I never thought I would enjoy them. I would say to be more open-minded because in a lot of those classes I ended up learning the most. They usually end up being the most challenging and rewarding.
Another point to mention is that you may come across many people who will tell you that your career path is limited to certain areas with a Brooklyn College history degree, but that is absolutely not true. Use this degree to make yourself stand out because it is one of the best degrees. I always knew I would be going toward the career path I am in now and wanted to learn skills I truly cannot learn on the job and am very thankful for my history degree from Brooklyn College.
Nathalie Belkin ’13
As an archivist it is essential to be able to tell the story of a city or a community, preserve pieces of history, hold people and institutions accountable, and improve transparency and access in order to connect researchers with the original documents they need. While this may seem like a lot to ask of a major, it was my major in history that gave me the basic tools I would need to enable this to happen.
First and foremost, the primary source research required and encouraged in most classes has been key to analyzing the importance of information generated from a particular time and place. Knowing how that information was used, shared and received from primary sources and then used by secondary sources, has been essential in organizing and understanding my work as an archivist.
I found that through readings, class discussions, and study I had more questions than answers. I developed skills that widened my scope of understanding. Instead of blindly agreeing or disagreeing with something I had read or heard, I found myself asking questions of history and the historians who created it. I wanted to know how and why certain choices were made. This has proven to be an invaluable skill I could not be without as I work with original materials today.
I am the first trained and experienced archivist to hold this position at The London Library. By using critical analysis skills learned from my time at Brooklyn College, I have been able to create a robust archive, one that is now understandable and accessible to colleagues, members and researchers. The organization of historical materials is not a straightforward matter of simply putting papers in chronological order, they need context.
The London Library archive is an institutional archive which contains materials from its inception to the present, with archival holdings dating back to 1675. Other materials include administrative records created by the library’s staff, trustees, and members, purchase and construction of the land and buildings surrounding the present-day library, collected papers of prior members, event outreach, and membership records. Without a firm knowledge base of history and how it is told, as well as the ability to conduct historical research, I would never have been able to tell the story required to share the rich history of The London Library.
I always loved history, with particular interest in the 19th and early-20th centuries of New York City and London. Initially I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with the history major, or how I could plan a career around it. But I knew for certain I wanted to be able to conduct research, use primary sources, interact with other likeminded people, share the knowledge I found, and make that information accessible. The encouragement and constructive criticism from professors, as well as the variety of classes the History Department offered each semester, helped to clarify these goals.
Cooper Binsky ’15
Being a successful litigator requires the ability to communicate effectively both in writing and orally. As a litigator, you are constantly advocating for your client, whether it be on paper or arguing in court. To advocate successfully, a litigator must be able to research effectively and analyze complex issues. As a history major, I was constantly writing and presenting papers after extensive research. This allowed me to develop the skills needed to be an effective writer and orator which have helped me succeed as an attorney.
I really enjoyed the wide range of history classes that were offered each semester. This allowed me to learn more about topics I was already somewhat familiar with, like US at War in the 20th and 21st Century with Professor Napoli, as well as topics I had never really been exposed to in a meaningful way, like Russian History to the Great Reform with Professor O’Keeffe. Moreover, the History Department’s professors’ passion for the subjects they taught—especially Professor O’Keeffe—was infectious and inspiring.
Sammy Calvo ’10
Majoring in history gave me the ability to spot trends and patterns that happen both in the workplace and in everyday life and to make meaning out of them. That’s in essence what the study of history is. It takes the mundane—dates, statements, facts—and weaves a coherent story based on those things. Of course, on a more fundamental level, the skill to research and write about various topics has helped me tremendously in my career in law.
I thought the History Department was wonderful. There were many professors who were committed and passionate about their particular expertise in history.
A course I took on Russian/Soviet history of the 20th century. Growing up, I felt that the history and trajectory of the Western world was all that was ever studied or dealt with. Immersing in a history so fundamentally different (seeing what the other side was doing) was fascinating.
Phillip Coard ’16
Currently, I work as a teacher and instructional technology coordinator/coach in a sixth–12th grade setting. I am also a board member for a local nonprofit on Staten Island named Canvas Institute. I feel strongly that the skills that I developed throughout my history major at Brooklyn College allowed me to have success in these roles. In my role as a technology coordinator, having strong writing and analytical skills is important in creating reports about how successful different tech initiatives are, and in summarizing data collected on student assessments and results. In my nonprofit work, the research skills that I learned as a history major allowed me to jump right into grant-writing and research with little formal training, which resulted in over $100,000 raised in discretionary finding and smaller grants from the city and other organizations. In my history major, I learned how to think critically in a way that helps me in all aspects of my life.
As a history major, I felt supported and challenged by all of my professors. The experiences that I had sparked my passion for lifelong learning, and helped to shape the values that I hold today. These values have led me towards community service and activism in my community, which I work hard to share with the students that I teach. One mentor that particularly inspired me in this path is Professor Jocelyn Wills.
Two courses that I would say had the most influence on me would be History of the French Revolution (Professor Troyansky) and my Independent Study (Professor Wills). In learning about the French Revolution, we also learned about the Haitian Revolution. This experience inspired me to learn more about my African-American and Caribbean roots, and in turn about the struggles of people around the world up until this day. In my independent study, I researched community activism in Bed-Stuy during the civil rights era. In the process, Professor Wills introduced me to the world of archival research and guided me through the process of creating my own historical analysis from scratch. To this day, this experience lives with me as one of the most influential of my life, and is the catalyst for my involvement in community activism and service.
Alex Delare M.A. ’19
Attending Brooklyn College and receiving a master’s in history sincerely changed my life. At the time of my admittance, I was working part-time as a senior educator and costumed interpreter at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and running my walking tour business with my husband, Jonathan Anderson (also a graduate of the History Department at Brooklyn College) called The History Couple. I had been trying to find full-time work in the historical and educational field for approximately a year and had been unable to do so. Upon admittance to the History department, I received my first full-time position at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as an education specialist. I attended Brooklyn College part-time and took classes in the evening in order to continue working in my chosen field. I took two classes a semester and was able to complete my degree in 2.5 years. During my final year, in the midst of writing my thesis, I became an education associate at New York City Children’s Theater. Shortly after receiving my diploma in May, I became the associate director of education at this same organization. My master’s degree paved the way for this step in my career.
My two thesis advisers were also my two favorite professors in the History Department, Gunja SenGupta and Brigid O’Keeffe. I took Professor SenGupta’s course on Slavery and Freedom and Professor O’Keeffe’s Introduction to the Study of History. Both of these courses were inspiring because of the brilliant professors who taught them! Their incredible facilitation, gifted storytelling, as well as the fascinating readings they shared with us, brought these classes and history to life.
Not only was my career changed by attending Brooklyn College, but also my bravery to participate in classroom settings improved. As one of the only women in the majority of my classes, I found that it was even more imperative to have my ideas shared aloud although this also took more courage. My course work challenged me to learn and be exposed to new historical ideas and participate in classroom dialogues with students who were eager to learn. I also became a far better writer and articulator of my ideas. Finally, Brooklyn College’s history program made me a better participant in the world by making me a more avid reader and searcher of knowledge, and forever lover of the human spirit.
Benjamin Elesh M.A. ’15
There are really two parts to this question. The first is rather easy to answer. The positive impact on my life has been significant. I had the privilege of working with faculty of the History Department at Brooklyn College. They were passionate about their work, they cared about their students, and it showed. They created an atmosphere for students to express themselves, and to invite thoughtful competition into an exchange of ideas. Further, the faculty’s dedication to teaching expanded beyond the simple content they wished to convey; they taught students how to digest complicated material, to find joy in problem solving, and most basically, how to learn and research more efficiently and effectively. These skills are extremely valuable to anyone’s life experience, especially in an ever increasingly competitive professional environment.
The second part of this question may invite the question as to how a career in real estate benefits from a master’s degree in history. First, related to above, the ability to research and write clearly, helps when diving into legal and historical material related to commercial or residential real estate transactions. Second, while I took a variety of classes covering a broad range of subjects, my focus was on urban environmental history in New York City. In particular, my thesis helped me understand the history behind New York’s complicated ecological and biological relationships over time. This also allowed me to understand how these relationships shaped public policy, and how the policies evolved, or in some cases did not evolve, and why. Understanding these dynamics is helpful in predicting city and/or human behavior, which can affect real estate markets.
David Feintuch ’19
As of now, I am pursuing a career in tax law. Although at first, a background in history may not appear to be connected to my current career path, the study has helped me develop broad legal skills in numerous ways.
The first skill I gained from being a history major was reading comprehension. As a history major, I was expected to complete a fair amount of reading. Simply put, reading makes you better at reading and as a law student, this is a skill that is fundamental to the practice. With a skill of reading comprehension, issue spotting becomes developed. Issue spotting may be the most important skill an attorney can have as this is the first step an attorney must take when assessing any legal situation. When I took my law school finals, I did not fear missing out on an issue and I believe this lack of fear was aided by my experience as a history major at Brooklyn College. Additionally, tax law is a demanding field than requires strong focus and the ability to synthesize complicated rules and a robust skill in reading comprehension is vital for any good tax attorney.
The second skill a history major helped me develop was writing. For all the reading a history major should complete, writing is the second half of the major. As a history major, I completed many writing assignments. Sharp writing is another fundamental skill for any attorney as this is essential for providing clarity and conciseness to a client’s issue. During my time as a law student, I have had to write a number of memorandums and research papers. I believe my experience as a history major at Brooklyn College has made these assignments all the more easier and enjoyable to complete.
Last, a history major will help increase your own intellectual curiosity. Having this type of curiosity will help you enjoy doing research and increase your ability to network. The best work is work done by someone who is happy to do so. Any attorney should be motivated to help future clients with research. Having the intellectual curiosity to do so makes researching a whole lot more enjoyable and easier to connect with a client.
All of these skills played a vital role during my law school internships as well. The first was interning with Justice Levine for Kings County Supreme Court, where I had to review court cases and draft memos that I would then explain to the judge. My second internship currently is with a small business legal counsel where reading cases and drafting memos come into play again, but this time I am explaining my research to the private sector, rather than the public one.
I believe the professors in the History Department were and continue to be excellent. They helped me develop my reading and writing skills all at the same time ensuring that the topics taught were interesting and nuanced.
My colloquium on the Age of Enlightenment with Professor Troyansky still leaves me pondering philosophical questions on the works of Hegel and Marx. I believe these topics are still relevant today, especially given the current U.S. political climate.
Charlene J. Fletcher M.A. ’14
My areas of research are 19th-century U.S., African-American, and women’s history.
The M.A. in history gave me a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to study and an overview of the methodologies available to approach my topic. From there, I had a clearer vision of why I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. and what research I sought to pursue. Each year of doctoral study has helped me build and expand my research interests into a viable dissertation topic, and a possible book, but I developed that foundation in the M.A. program.
My current research explores the experiences of confined African-American women in Kentucky from Reconstruction to the Progressive Era, specifically illuminating the lives of confined black women by examining places other than carceral locales as arenas of confinement, including mental health asylums and domestic spaces. I seek to explore how these women both defied and defined confinement through their incarceration; interactions with public, social, and political entities of the period; and how they challenged Victorian ideas of race and femininity in Kentucky.
I am definitely a historian of the African-American experience, women, and the U.S. South. While my dissertation centers on confinement in Kentucky, the project has led me to follow the rabbit hole to more on legal history and politics, African American life and spirituality, and social activism in the American South. My master’s thesis research explored the race riots of the Red Summer of 1919 and the implementation and consequences of the use of martial law during the 1918 and 1919 race riots in Charleston, South Carolina.
I enjoyed course work at Brooklyn College, but the class that left the greatest impression on me was Medieval Europe, with Professor Lauren Mancia. I had no background in European history, and Professor Mancia not only combined the archive with material culture, but her course allowed me to explore my own interests in women’s history through an unfamiliar lens. It was fantastic. Even as an Americanist, I still return to the methods and ideas gleaned from her course.
Nolan Patrick Frontera ’20
Majoring in history was probably the greatest choice I made in my creative career as both an actor and writer. It allowed my brain to think a certain way and to understand an array of perspectives and beliefs. You learn the cultural and political significance of people and places, and you acquire the skills to explore beyond the abyss of information. History gave me skills I would have never encountered anywhere else. Whenever I write a story or explore a character, I can use history as a utility in order to find what is most authentic and honest. If ever there is something, I am unsure of, I can always rely on history to help me out, regardless of how impossible or different the idea may be. Without history and research, The Encounter would have never been written, let alone produced.
Stay in touch with your professors; they’re cool people. The department is probably the best one in Brooklyn College.
I loved KC Johnson’s Constitutional History class because it taught me one thing: Despite the Constitution only being a few pages, the amount of impact it had on this country is absolutely mind boggling. From Dred Scott to Miranda, it amazes me how such a document can change the country again and again in such dramatic fashion.
Danyelle Hershkopf ’19
History teachers need to show the complexity of the past: how all sources have a bias, how even the most straightforward sources need thorough analysis and questioning. By majoring in history, I was given the tools, schools of thought, and practice needed to be able to understand this complexity myself, as well as help my students do the same. A lot of social studies is based on analyzing documents. With my background as a history major, I can help students dig deep and look beyond the face value of the sources they view. Moreover, this allows me to help my students create connections. A large part of my studies were understanding changes over time. As a history major, I can show students that the events of the present do not exist in a bubble, but are ripples due to past events. In short, studying history allowed me to apply critical thinking to comprehending the world around me. This is something I hope to pass onto the next generation.
My biggest takeaway from my time in the History Department was the encouragement I got from all of my professors. Each encouraged me to look at my studies through a different lens. Things that would seem superficial—arranged marriage in the Early modern era, word art as political expression, the use of novels like Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev as historical sources—were all avenues worth exploring. I learned that history isn’t just journals and photographs. History can be found in anything. History is in everything.
Justin Keslowitz ’12
In my role, I advise New York Life in identifying, evaluating, and managing complex global privacy and information security risks and compliance issues, including preparing for and responding to data breaches, and developing policies and procedures to comply with international and domestic privacy laws. Prior to working at New York Life, I was an associate attorney at the global law firm Hunton & Williams LLP, where I also worked on privacy and cybersecurity matters.
A large part of an attorney’s job is being able to analyze complex and dense material to determine the key facts or legal issues. For example, I often need to analyze detailed and lengthy contracts and statements of work to determine whether there are any important privacy or cybersecurity legal issues that need to be addressed based on the relationship of the parties to the agreement or the subject matter. As a history major, I was constantly confronted with analyzing lengthy and difficult material, and tasked with crafting narratives, summaries, and arguments about what I read. To do so, I needed to read critically to fully understand the key facts and issues that were being discussed. This experience as a history major helped me hone my analytical and critical reading skills, which have proven invaluable in my daily professional life.
I really appreciated the inclusive nature of the History Department and its courses. I always felt I was able to express my views on different topics in a meaningful way, and also learn from the perspectives of others who might’ve seen the world a bit differently than I did.
Sara Lifschutz ’14
After my time at Brooklyn College, I went on earn a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. I can say firmly that having studied pedagogy in that capacity, I was overwhelmingly grateful that my professors at Brooklyn College, especially in the History Department, really pushed us to think critically. Critical thinking is a skill far more significant and transferrable than any of the historical knowledge I gained. I realized only after starting graduate school how important it was to be able to analyze source material not only for aspects like main idea and theme, which are traditionally taught in literature classes, but for complexities like bias, reliability, validity, and corroboration. I use these skills daily in my own personal learning, and I stress their importance in teaching my high school students, especially as they are all immigrant youth in 2019.
History was actually my last major I added to my triple major program. I had always wanted to study history, but I had reservations that grew out of the negativity I heard from others about possible career paths in the field. I am glad I chose not to listen to those who tried to deter me from this course, because I was met with nothing but openness and acceptance from both faculty and peers in the History Department. I would go as far as to say that it wasn’t until my senior year, when I was predominantly taking history classes, that I actually made friends at Brooklyn College. We all know how difficult forming meaningful relationships can be at a commuter school. Joining the Brooklyn College Historical Society opened doors for me socially, academically, and even helped me land an internship senior year at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The course I think about most frequently, and the one that has impacted me most deeply, would be the Colloquium in Cultural History I took with Professor Steven Remy. I teach the 20th century in both global history and in U.S. history in my current profession, and I reflect often at the lens through which Professor Remy exposed us to many of these same events, ideologies, and themes. I recall watching eye-opening cinema, reading enlightening books and articles, and having discussions that were lively, and personal, for many of us sitting in the room. The way Professor Remy was able to facilitate these discussions, which sometimes turned into debates, is admirable, and I try in my own career to emulate the way he affirmed various opinions, while always guiding the discussion back to the facts and texts.
Timothy G. Lynch ’94
Majoring in history was the best decision I ever made. It taught me how to reconcile competing points of view, value different perspectives, and think critically and analytically about how others perceive the decisions we make. It also forced me to become a better writer and public speaker—the latter was not a strength of mine, and I used to dread making oral presentations in class, but I’ve become much more comfortable with that now. In fact, it’s one of the things I think I’m best at.
Brooklyn College changed my life. I’m a first-generation college student, and I never really thought about what I would do after graduation. I majored in history because I enjoyed the subject and was good at it—I saw it as a way to boost my GPA and get into professional school (I was considering dentistry as a career!). Then one day, an old professor and mentor (Hans Trefousse) suggested that I look at history less as a vehicle to get me into another field, and more as a career choice on its own. I never looked back after that.
Wow—there are so many to choose from. Courses on the history of New York City (“Burroughs on the Boroughs”)…or the Italian Renaissance…or the Gilded Age. I made a point of taking courses in as many subfields as possible, but I think my favorite might have been a course on Constitutional History—it really opened my eyes to the ways in which contemporary issues have historical foundations.
Kay McCallum ’17
I actually got my graduate research project because of my history degree! My supervisor, Sarah Styler, first was interested in taking me on as a student because she was impressed with my writing sample—and I owe my writing skills entirely to the many, many essays and writing assignments I was assigned in my history classes. Once she learned I had a background in history, she offered me my current research because it operates at the intersection of art history and environmental chemistry, and I was uniquely suited to work there.
My research is on the application of atmospheric chemistry techniques to art conservation science, which actually involves a significant amount of historical research and knowledge! Whereas conservation scientists look at actual objects, I look at art materials in the lab and try to model what sort of reactions will happen on and to them. But lab-grade or modern materials may not react exactly the same way historic or aged materials do, so understanding and contextualizing the history behind how art was made and what materials were used is critical to getting accurate results.
As an example: One of my projects is on acrylic emulsion paints, which were popularized in the mid-20th century by artists like Andy Warhol. Recently, these mid-century artworks have begun to show damage: a component in the paint exhibits degradation in the presence of light and Titanium White (an inorganic pigment made of the mineral titanium dioxide), which has as-yet unforeseen consequences to the art’s integrity. My work aims to determine how—and how fast—this reaction occurs. However, doing so is a bit more complicated than just buying lab-grade titanium dioxide or Titanium White artist’s pigment and throwing it in a solution and exposing it to light—historically, there have been a couple types of titanium dioxide mineral used to make Titanium White, and these types have different chemical reactivities. Additionally, current Titanium White pigment is not composed of just raw pigment; the particles are coated to improve its lightfastness and reduce its reactivity. I need to understand these historic nuances to provide accurate data that can be applied to real objects outside the lab!
I don’t have any journal publications yet (they’re in preparation at the moment), but last year my work was presented at the Prairie Environmental Chemistry Colloquium in Canada (hosted by the University of Saskatchewan) and at the 2020 Indoor Air Quality in the Museum Environment Workshop (hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
This is a very hard question, because I want to give a better response than just “all of them!” But as far as impacting my career and educational trajectory, two stand out.
I took Professor O’Keeffe’s Russian History and Professor Warren’s Colloquium on Cultural and Intellectual History in spring 2016, and around the time we began discussing nuclear fears in Professor Warren’s class, we were reading Plutopia in Professor O’Keeffe’s. I was very familiar with nuclear chemistry, and here I had the opportunity to examine the historical and environmental impact of chemical concepts I’d only seen in lab or lecture at that point. When I took Environmental Chemistry that fall, I looked at nuclear problems from the opposite end through honors research on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility—a modern-day environmental chemistry issue that can only be understood through the history of nuclear waste in the States.
I pursued a year-long independent research project in the History Department with Professor Warren on scientific ethics and the history of the Manhattan Project. The work we scientists do in the lab have real-world impacts, but rarely in a science-focused course of study are those impacts discussed. As a history major, I was able to get the full picture I would’ve missed by just being in chemistry. Quite frankly, being a history major led me to becoming an environmental chemist and science communicator!
I was blessed with some transcendent opportunities during my history degree (I’ll never forget seeing Hamilton in previews or visiting the Columbia archives and interacting with historical documents!). But being a history major also gave me practical skills and experience I’ve carried through to my work as a chemistry grad student. I rely daily on the research and writing skills I learned in 2001W with Professor Mancia and the interview skills I learned in US at War with Professor Napoli, and they’ve become instrumental in how I present my research.
As a science communicator and a researcher in a very interdisciplinary field, I need to present my work in a way that will be accessible to chemists, conservators, students, and the public. The best way I’ve found to connect people with STEM is by telling it as a story—and I learned how to tell a good story, with nuances, context, and perspective, as a history major.
Matt Mezeul ’18
Although seemingly far removed from the field of substance abuse counseling, the subject of history has proved instrumental in my work. An appreciation of history seems, quite naturally, to lead to an appreciation of diversity and a self-awareness of one’s ignorance, which in turn informs how I approach my work. There are myriad reasons young people turn to drugs—some of have experienced trauma before or during their drug use, while others may have fallen into addiction from the simple vagaries of life. The important thing is that I do not judge the individual based solely on my personal experience, and when I feel my judgment creeping on, I must be aware of it and determine if it is rooted in place that is overly personal rather than a place of open-mindedness and compassion. The whole of history seems to teach this simple principle.
Simply put, my time as a history major was so much more fulfilling than I could have imagined before entering Brooklyn College. I am, unfortunately, quite cynical and have had many disappointing academic experiences in my life, but every history class I attended while at Brooklyn College offered something truly worthwhile and fruitful.
There are likely too many to mention, but I will try. I was definitely unenthused to enroll in a course called Introduction to the Study of History, but Professor O’Keeffe transformed what I had assumed a rather mundane subject into an illuminating experience. The openness of discussion and exposure to thought-provoking ideas created a welcoming environment I never minded entering. Also, the many classes I took with Professor Stern offered me interests that were hitherto unknown to me. I found the ancient Levant to be fascinating and the idea that there was agency in images groundbreaking. Although these classes are the ones that immediately come to mind, I can still remember aspects of each class I took, whether it be the oral history report with Professor Napoli that brought me closer to my father, learning that I actually found gender studies enlightening with Professor Banerjee, or the comfortable and stimulating classroom of Professor Fishman. Each class and each professor made a mark on me.
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy ’09
Ms. Weinstein was my first-grade teacher, who taught me how to look up a word in an index of a book. The first time I looked at the index of a book was the history textbook she had given us. The word I looked up was Turkey.
Born and raised to a Turkish Family in New York, like many immigrant parents they would talk about this place they called home. In my case this was Turkey. Where was this place? Who were these people in their stories? Why was this place so important to who they were? I guess somehow I was trying to discover who I was when I looked at the index of that textbook.
Studying history not only prepared me for my current career but made me the individual I became. Studying history at Brooklyn College refined the skills I already had but had not realized they were there. Skills like critical and analytical thinking, communication, problem-solving, research, and writing.
Throughout my career, these skills have been a focal point, in building relationships, opening new channels of engagement, and developing and managing projects with a wide range of private and governmental organizations. These skills allowed me to complete my master’s in international relations, co-found Turkey’s first and only political fact-checking site, and interview 120 Syrians living in Turkey to share their life stories with the public to fight the growing misinformation and xenophobia against Syrians living in Turkey. Today I am the program manager of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at The Poynter Institute, the premier global coalition of fact-checking organizations.
I feel like the courses that were offered at the History Department allowed me to understand different historical perspectives. The diverse student body brought ideas and perspectives I was not aware of. This truly broadened my view on life and the world.
Late Ottoman History, Professor Louis Fishman’s class was one the most influential courses I took. Technically I was not supposed to be in that class, because it was only open to master’s students. Professor Fishman acquired a special wavier to admit me into his class. The discussions, the reading material all opened a new view of Turkey’s history to me. Professor Fishman’s approach to history in a critical view allowed me to discover different sides of history, which I really appreciated.
After graduating the plan was to become a history teacher in the New York City Public School system. I wanted to be able to help guide other individuals to find themselves and discover who they are, but my journey to find who I was, was just starting. Professor Fishman played a critical role in my decision to move to Turkey. Long story short, for 10 years I lived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Istanbul, with experiences and friendships that will last forever.
Joshua Rappaport ’19
My history degree from Brooklyn College equipped me with many skills required in the field of education. Most important are skills in communication, making connections, and teamwork. Communication is key when working with children. On top of being clear and concise in delivery and facilitation, social studies teachers must also assist students in finding the daily lesson’s meaning and connection to their world. Teamwork among staff is a crucial part of my career. I enhanced my teamwork knowledge and abilities in Brooklyn College history courses through the process of group projects and presentations, debates, and engaging in discourse with fellow history majors and professors in seminars.
I often reflect on my undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College and it brings a smile to my face. I cherish all of the conversations—informative, celebratory, and difficult—and debates that took place within the four walls of Boylan Hall rooms. Every lesson, every conversation, every debate led to growth in knowledge and understanding of the other side. We listened to each other and with that came progress. That’s what “history” is all about. That, and cramming for exams in the history lounge.
My favorite aspect of the History Department has always been our incredible, brilliant, and dedicated professors. They have all left a lasting influence on me and I will attempt to give them all a shoutout. I took Professor O’Keeffe’s Intro to the Study of History at what a college student would consider “early in the morning.” Her energy, enthusiasm, and amazing lectures made it where I was never tired, but instead excited to participate. That course introduced me to the idea that knowledge in history doesn’t mean getting questions right on Jeopardy!, but rather researching, asking questions, making arguments, and successfully conveying that argument with evidence to others. I wound up enjoying that almost as much as sweeping a historical category on Jeopardy!. History of the Future with Professor Rawson was a total game changer. Like many other history courses, we would often read, analyze, and discuss different sources. A theme from the class that I remember well is dystopia. It was during this time that I was getting further into the band Rush and their album 2112. The combination of this course and that album is truly mind-blowing. That remains my favorite course and band of all time. Great professors like professors Ebert and Griffin both taught courses that helped me develop the knowledge of some of the content that I now get to pass on to my students. Professor KC Johnson is a genius, mad-scientist of a U.S. history professor. His depth of knowledge completely blew me away on a regular basis. I always say to myself, “Professor Johnson is kind of like my grand-professor,” because he was my seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher’s history professor in college as well. My upper-level colloquiums were with professors Stern and Fishman. Professor Stern deeply analyzes artifacts that many other people may simply glance over. With this impeccable skill, she brings these artifacts to life and unveils their meaning and value. It’s a skill, level of intellect, and caring of these artifacts that I tremendously admire. Professor Fishman is a true political activist and one that everyone at Brooklyn College should look up to. His course on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict opened my eyes.
Thank you to the amazing professors of Brooklyn College’s History Department!
Teanu Reid ’16
I feel like the broad range of history courses that I had to take as a history major gave me a really good foundation for entering a history graduate program. Even though I didn’t have a master’s before starting my Ph.D., I’ve never felt like I’m less knowledgeable than my peers who do. It’s felt more like we all have different expertise in specific areas of history, and we bring those different backgrounds together in our current courses.
Broadly, my research focuses on topics of migration, slavery, manumission, and money—particularly Spanish pieces of eight—in the early modern British Atlantic world. My research focuses on these topics as they relate to Barbados, and its relationship with other colonies.
More specifically, as part of my doctoral research, I am investigating what money enslaved and free people of color had access to in the British Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries. I question the possibilities for enslaved people to purchase their freedom. And, I seek to better understand sources of income for enslaved and free people of color, the economies they participated in, and how this affected the lives they were able to live.
My research thus far has been supported by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
One of the things I really appreciated about being a history major was the mentorship and advisement that I got from faculty. I was well supported throughout my undergraduate experience, and it’s an important aspect of how I got to where I am today.
Carlos A. Santiago M.A. ’19
I am a public historian who currently works as the digital aollections assistant at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYG&B). In this role, I play a key part in making digitized genealogical documents accessible for members. I assist the institution with the preservation of documents through digitization projects, indexing, describing collection material, and more. Aside from working at the NYG&B, I make time to work on my research topic, which is the history of tourism and the New Deal in Puerto Rico. I love making use of my academic training and I hope to get an academic journal article published on my topic soon. I also apply my public history training by writing history essays for general audiences and trying to get them published on sites like H-Net and others.
My degree in history gave me the opportunity to explore my options. When I applied, I still very much wanted to get a Ph.D., but I decided to go to a M.A. program first because I wanted to plan an alternate career path. If I had not chosen to get my history M.A. at Brooklyn College, my life would have gone another direction. This program is what led me to explore public history and become a student at the College of Staten Island’s Advanced Certificate in Public History program. Furthermore, Brooklyn College prepared me to have the skills and the confidence to write history essays with the hopes of getting them published. I may not be getting a Ph.D., but that does not mean that I cannot make my own contributions to the field. A history M.A. is both earned and constantly applied. Academic history taught me how to think outside of the box and use problem solving skills when obstacles present themselves during research, which are lessons that I apply to my career, writing, and life.
I would say that the Pre-Modern China and Modern China courses taught by Professor Meyer had the most profound impact on me. The content was excellent, and I believe that it made me a much better researcher as a result. He had us analyze primary sources at home and in the classroom. Our discussions in class weaved both primary and secondary sources rather seamlessly. What was most impressive was Professor Meyer’s expertise. He made connections that I would not have dreamed of imagining, which pushed me to learn how to fully flesh out a historical narrative. Dealing with Pre-Modern China sources was very challenging, yet Professor Meyer taught the class how to interpret primary sources effectively and responsibly. These classes were among the most satisfying and challenging. I owe much of my skills as a historian to his classes and his feedback on my papers.
When I was an undergraduate, I found a couple of books written by a historian named Benjamin Carp, Rebels Rising and Defiance of the Patriots. I read both books and ended up loving them. When I found out the author was a professor at Brooklyn College, it prompted me to check out the college’s History Department faculty. I loved what I saw. It was a pleasure to see that the department tried its best to serve the diverse student body by having professors who specialize in different regions. After I saw the department’s webpage, I was convinced to apply to the program. I soon reached out. I corresponded with two helpful people, Professor Rawson and my soon-to-be advisor, Professor Ebert. They made me feel at home and eventually I decided to attend Brooklyn. My entire story would not have been possible if I never picked up Professor Carp’s books. If for some reason I read two other books in their place, I almost guarantee I would not have begun my graduate school journey at Brooklyn College.
Miriam Sharma ’62
There is no doubt about the seminal importance of my major in history. It, along with my studies in London, provided a foundation for completing my M.A. in history at the University of Virginia, and while I went on to a Ph.D. in anthropology and postdoctoral work in political economy, history remains the core of my intellectual endeavors in teaching and research. Looking closely and critically at the sources with an open and questioning mind is a key skill I acquired. Somewhere, along the way, it also taught me to question received wisdom and try to hear silenced voices. Perhaps a key example of this is how my courses are always rooted in history and try to both question and present alternative views to those that dominate in academia.
In fall 1957, I entered Brooklyn College—a little over 16 and a half years—after being a member of the first graduating class of Wingate High School in Crown Heights. My life until then was very much constricted by the ghettoized environment of the 1940s and 1950s. Brooklyn College introduced me to a new world of knowledge and exciting friendships in which my history major played a critical role—opening new horizons.
A large and fascinating lecture class of required “Western Civilization” in my first semester sparked my interest in history and that became my major field of study. Most memorable teachers were professors Mary Francis Giles and Ann Burton; the former taught Roman history with led me to focus on Greek and Roman history as a junior study abroad student at University College London. The latter worked with me on an intensive independent reading course on British history that allowed me to complete my major requirements. But most memorable of all was Professor John Hope Franklin, who had come to Brooklyn College as the chair of the History Department in 1956.
After returning from London, I took Professor Franklin’s course Civil War and Reconstruction, writing my final research paper (completed at the 42nd Street Library—not Wikipedia!) on “Pro-Slavery Arguments in the Old South.” That course was pivotal in cementing my interest in history as well as a lifelong friendship with him. I still have that paper with Professor Franklin’s comments. He said he would like me to be an honors student in history; unfortunately, as I was due to graduate that did not permit further courses with him. Yet, somehow—I have never quite figured out why—this one student out of thousands enrolled at Brooklyn College at that time, remained closely linked with John Hope over many years until his passing in 2009.
If I write so much about John Hope as a memory of my time at Brooklyn College over 50+ years ago, it is because my educational and intellectual experiences with him epitomize the key role the History Department played in helping to form my very personhood and ultimate academic goals of my future life. The courses taught by history faculty, as well as its other faculty, were demanding and challenging and gave me the tools with which to pursue knowledge in and outside academia that was imbued with critical thinking—before the term became a buzzword of today.
Keara W Small ’20
My history major has laid the foundation and core values in my classroom as a social studies teacher. One of the key skills I developed as an undergraduate history major was being able to analyze and interpret how an argument was conveyed. More so, I was urged to examine and connect sources used throughout a text. Methodology is a framework that not only lays out the blueprint for research, yet it allows us to understand the intent and choices made by the author. I urge my students to think critically about everything they read! As we read novels and articles, I urge them to question everything in front of them; Who’s missing? What’s missing from this argument and why? As a first-year teacher, many of my students understood history as prehistoric and unrelatable. However, after implementing culturally relevant pedagogy in my classroom my students are able to use history to understand their identity and the present.
As a double major, I had the opportunity to experience both the education and history department. Many of my peers from the history department majored in so many different fields, which makes the department so unique. In any history course offered at Brooklyn College, you could be sitting next to a pre-med student, a future educator, or an aspiring musician. As a Black woman who majored in history, I appreciated spaces where I could unapologetically be myself. Having the opportunity to exchange ideas, experiences, and concerns with fellow history students are moments that I would never forget.
A course that every history student will take is HIST 2001, which allowed me to practice thesis writing and extensive research. I went into libraries and explored so many databases to write my final paper. At the end of the course, I felt so proud because of my ability to overcome the obstacles when conducting research. A meaningful course that shaped one of the reasons why I decided to major in women and gender studies for my master’s degree was HIST 4003. In spring 2019, I took a Russian history about Stalinism in the Soviet Union and became very fascinated about women and the role of gender in the economy.
Kenneth Michael Spalla M.A. ’21
Earning a master’s degree from Brooklyn College has positively impacted my personal and professional life in a number of ways—some obvious and direct, others, less tangible. The global focus of the history M.A. program at Brooklyn College is the perfect program for aspiring history educators, especially those that will be teaching global history in a Department of Education school. Through courses I took at Brooklyn College I was exposed not only to a diversity of content, but a diversity of perspectives. As the instructional focus for New York City public school history curriculum continues to shift further and further toward emphasizing the experiences of marginalized peoples, steeping oneself in a learning environment that encourages diversity of thought and approach is invaluable. Aside from the expert guidance of the History Department faculty, the history M.A. program also afforded me the opportunity to me and learn from other educators from all over the city. Having the opportunity to enrich my teaching practice through networking with other educators with a passion for history allowed me to adapt and modify my curriculum in ways I otherwise might not have considered. Completing the history M.A. program expanded not only my content knowledge, but also my set of instructional tools and methods.
On a personal level, I think that having a strong sense of history is one of the most important skills any person, regardless of career path, can cultivate. Studying history and its associated disciplinary skills is key to being an active and informed citizen and engaged member of the electorate. Recent events in the nation’s capitol have made it exceedingly clear that an honest reckoning of the past is crucial for the maintenance of our fragile democracy. Without a sense of the past, a person is rudderless—they are untethered and free to be tossed about in turbulent waters. Refining our critical thinking, information literacy, and analytical writing—all skills necessary to achieve mastery in this program—are essential in anchoring ourselves in the present and being able to identify and resist destabilizing influences in our personal lives and our communities.
One of the most beautiful aspects of studying history are the continuous revelations of just how connected and interdependent our world is. Brooklyn College’s history M.A. program is designed in a way that supports the development of such understandings. While the program casts a wide net with respect to historical content, students have a tremendous amount of freedom in deciding how they want to pursue their course objectives. Professors clearly spend a significant portion of time familiarizing themselves with the work of their colleagues, meaning that nothing you learn ever stands in isolation. This program is a model of what a history M.A. should provide for graduate students, especially those with aspirations in education.
This is a difficult question to answer since I really enjoyed all the classes I took while earning my degree. I have to give special recognition to professors Mancia and Rawson, not only because their courses were engaging and helped me generate the work for my graduate portfolio defense, but also because it was during their classes that we were all forced to make the abrupt shift to fully remote instruction. The transition was seamless and the instruction remained high quality thanks to their flexibility and dedication.
If there were one class I had to single out as being particularly significant, it would be Professor Remy’s Imperial World at War course. This course was my first at Brooklyn College and it set the tone for what the rest of my time in the program would be like. It that embodies the mission of the History Department. We studied global events that are familiar to most folks—the World Wars—but from a unique perspective that enriched and complicated our understanding of these global conflicts. Much of the history that we are exposed to is delivered to us through a White, Western-world perspective, which leads us to view non-White actors as secondary characters. The Imperial World at War, like many other courses at Brooklyn College, helped us to move beyond a tired and overly simplistic understanding of things we thought we knew about the world. Courses that help shake up our preconceived notions about the past and expose us to alternative interpretations and storylines are critically important in developing a rich sense of the past, while also preparing us to be members of an increasingly interconnected world. Many of my courses at Brooklyn College accomplished similar feats, but as my first exposure to the program here, Professor Remy’s course made a singular impression.
The more of yourself you put into your course work and the programs at Brooklyn College, the more you will get out of it—and Brooklyn College provides exceptional opportunities for you to do just that.
Terrance Blackman Stroud ’98
I oversee the training, workforce development, and logistical support functions for the largest municipal social services agency in the country. The Department of Social Services (DSS) has an operating budget of $9.7 billion and over 14,000 employees. DSS is composed of the administrative units of the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
Majoring in history helped prepare me for challenging roles in government. I developed analytical skills that I continue to use on a daily basis. As a discipline, history encourages interdisciplinary thinking, which is vital to the decision-making process and developing creative and practical solutions.
Esteemed historian John Hope Franklin was the first African American to chair a history department at a major U.S. college and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I remember the first time I saw his glass showcase in the History Department’s conference room, which included his numerous writings and achievements. I felt a connection to him and the department and decided to become a history major shortly thereafter.
One of my favorite history courses was the History of New York City, taught by esteemed Professor Edwin Burrows. As a first-generation New Yorker, I was interested in the rich history of our city, and I knew that for over a decade Professor Burrows was working on a detailed account of New York’s history. I remember coming to class one day and he announced with surprising humility that he had just been informed that he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Gotham: A History of New York City. As a I left class there were reporters waiting to interview him and news vans parked in front of the building. I will always remember that moment, which reinforced to me the importance of hard work and determination.
Zujaja Tauqeer, M.D., D.Phil. ’11
Majoring in history at Brooklyn College has shaped my career trajectory. I was always committed to pursuing a career in medicine (and, in fact I had been accepted to medical school before I started my history major). But the subject matter in my history courses was so interesting—not just names, dates, and places—and my professors so supportive of me having the opportunity to pursue my intensifying interest in the humanities that I ended up doing a doctorate in history prior to medical school. It has also shaped my interest in bioethics and history of medicine as a physician.
Through the support of my professors at Brooklyn College, I went on to do a doctorate in history at Oxford. My program had no course work so I had to hit the ground running when I started, and the skills that I had learned at Brooklyn College enabled me to succeed in writing a thesis that passed without any corrections. These skills include writing well; critically investigation written sources; and understanding, appreciating, and contributing to the historiography of one’s discipline. My introduction to these skills was in the History 10W class with Professor Andrew Meyer. Only later did I come to appreciate the deceptively rigorous training he imparted on me and the rest of my class as we informally and openly discussed readings by Herodotus and Livy and Ssuma Chien and learned to construct narratives of the past while probing the motivations of historians who chose to write certain things down.
The history major has made an indelible impact on my career in medicine. People in medicine are well aware of how broken our system is and how much we need to understand the history and ethics of healthcare in America in order to fix it. The study of historiography teaches one to question the premises of historical narratives and to understand the motives and context that inform the knowledge we produce. This is critical in medicine, however there is an impoverished understanding among medical practitioners for why we practice medicine as we do and why certain kind of health disparities exist. Why is maternal mortality so high in the United States? Why is the price of insulin so prohibitive? Why are public health systems in many previously colonized nations so inadequate? My study of history of medicine has motivated me to study and write about medical ethics and the social determinants of health, and to explore how conventions of medical practice are informed by social, political and economic factors. Having this strong critical approach allows one to envision changes and reforms in medicine to provide better care and to rid our society of disparities in healthcare, which are the most pernicious of all social evils.
The history major and political science minor brought me into contact with incredible professors like Andrew Meyer, Swapna Banerjee, Corey Robin, and Caroline Arnold who helped me to hone my writing voice. I cannot imagine a more empowering education: to be taught how to speak and write well in order to be heard and therefore to be able advocate for yourself. My ability to express myself effectively has landed me grants, scholarships, and access to institutions that provide me the social capital to advocate for the causes I care about.
On a grand scale, to know how history is written and by whom and to critique the meaning of words has helped me to deeply understand the use and power of language, and how words are used to create narratives in our news, politics, social relations, public institutions, which all deeply inform how we think of our ourselves and our social values—the economic policies we enact, the borders we defend, the wars we fight. I feel privileged that as a working-class immigrant growing up in New York I was able to access such a high quality public education that gave me power to understand and use language in a way that is only afforded to others with great power and privilege in our society.
I never envisioned being able to do graduate study in the humanities—it was not something anyone in my family had ever done. I am grateful for the chance to study the humanities at a public university with classmates who were parents, veterans, refugees, workers, activists and many other nontraditional students encompassing the entire gamut of New York’s working class, because it taught me the value of public institutions in giving common people access to their shared written history and influence over their representation in historical narratives and the resulting social policies that affect them.
Jasmine Jade Toledo ’18
My major in history helped me prepare for my current career immensely. I teach history to teenagers for a living, so it is imperative that I am an expert in my content area. The more I know about different subjects in history, the more my students find my lessons more interesting and engaging. There are many skills that I developed as an undergraduate history major that are essential to my work. The most important skill I’ve learned is how to think like a historian. By being able to source documents, identify bias, interpret a text, and analyze change over time, allows not only me to be a better teacher but my students to be more informed citizens. For example, when I taught a lesson on Christopher Columbus, I had my students read an excerpt from his own diary and a text that an indigenous person wrote. They were astonished when they read the two very different accounts of the interactions Columbus had with indigenous groups. They realized history is told differently by different people and they were better able to identify bias in texts by analyzing multiple perspectives.
What impacted me the most at Brooklyn College was that being a history major allowed me to explore my own culture. In every single history class I took, I was allowed to do some type of research paper or project based on a topic of my choice. I took this opportunity to explore my own Latino heritage. I called it my culture journey. I completed a one-year research project with Professor Wills. Together we explored the lives of undocumented Latinos in the workforce. I interviewed many different undocumented people from all over Latin America and read many different texts about the contributions this population has on the United States. This project changed my life because I learned so much about myself as a Latina and about my people. The student population at the school I currently work at is nearly 70% Latino. They all know about my project and they appreciate the love I have for history and Latino culture. My passion encourages them to be passionate about history and their own culture. I really do believe it inspires them to go on a culture journey of their own one day. I thank Brooklyn College and Professor Wills for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to be able to inspire these teenagers.
Jonathan Velazquez ’20
Being a history major has equipped me for any career field. As an undergraduate I was employed in numerous sectors where I excelled because I was able to apply tactics learned in the classroom at work, which has led me to excelling in each position I have held. The mindset of thinking like a historian is truly remarkable. I view things as objectively as I can but understand as humans, we all have our subjective biases that can make it hard for us to see situations from the perspectives of others. For example, majoring in history has improved the way I empathize with others. Everything is not black and white—there is a bureaucratic hierarchy in every field and understanding that has emancipated me. I no longer struggle with the notion that I must stay at a job and if I leave, I am at fault. I live life without the qualms of being tied to a company for the means of earning just a paycheck at the expense of the wellbeing of others and/or myself. For example, questioning the mechanics of a job and weighing the impact it has on my personal life, mental health and happiness are prominent when scouting employment.
Specific to my current line of work, understanding how insurance companies work and the footwork that needs to be done for patients to receive authorization to continue or begin their treatment ties into the economical aspect of social studies and how capitalism works. Being able to empathize and put myself in my patients’ situation gives that added fuel for me to be triumphant for them because the political and bureaucratic side of health insurance and health care is solely focused on the funds, not the true well-being of their patients.
A person who will always have the spotlight in my heart is my girlfriend, Andrea, whom I met at Brooklyn College and is also a history major. We were paired together for a group project in Professor Wills’ American Dreams and Realities course, which led to us becoming friends and then eventually dating. Being a history major, I was able to meet and challenge many great minds. Some of my fellow classmates and I would engage in intellectual sparring matches in class when we had different views on historical topics and that was something I truly enjoyed and miss now that I’ve graduated.
American Presidency (HIST 7446X) with Professor Johnson ranks up there as one of the best courses I have taken at Brooklyn College. What made this specific course stand out was the amount of agency that was granted to all the students enrolled. We had our research parameters, which were centrally focused on American presidents, but we were allowed to conduct original research on a president of our choosing. I was simultaneously taking an education course with Professor Glantzis where we honed in on teaching history then and now, where contemporary history alters conceptions of the yesteryears. As a fan of controversial history topics, an essential question from a lesson plan that struck a chord with me was “Was Lincoln a racist?” Historians debate this today, yet a certain president—Ulysses S. Grant—is never given the opportunity to have his story told and the triumphs he had made during reconstruction. In my paper, I argued that President Grant was a true champion to minorities through the use of his personal memoirs, testimonies from the Freedmen’s Bureau, articles from Fredrick Douglass’ newspaper The North Star, Grant’s relationship with Seneca Native Ely S. Parker who was a friend and comrade, along with his numerous battles and legislative acts to end racial violence and prejudice. Being able to bring Grant’s history out if the dark is something that I never would have the opportunity to do without taking Professor Johnson’s course.
HIST 3252 with Professor Brigid O’Keeffe was easily my favorite history course from my entire educational career. As a child that grew up in the 1990s where every action film type-casted Russians as evil communists, I came into the course with my own preconceptions. I thought I was going to learn about sleeper cells and heavy artillery at the hands of mad men who craved world domination; Instead, I was fascinated with the ideals of becoming a Stakhanovite. I was captivated by the works of Marx and Engels. I was able to investigate the decisions made by Lenin all the way to Gorbachev and understand the complexity of the history of tsarist Russia to the fall of the USSR. The will of the people, the struggle between the classes, the paranoia of class enemies and the dream of a utopia (communism) that never transpired. This course showed me that the history of cultures have more commonalities than we think. Professor O’Keeffe was able to equip me and all who took the course with the ability to look for the whole story. The richness of Russian history should not be overshadowed by their blemishes. Growing up in the United States it is easy to allow fallacies and fear to dictate the way that we recount history, but when one thinks like a historian, we are conditioned to look for the silence. This course was the foundation to my success in Brooklyn College, as well as the roots to my historical approach in life.