Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

New History Professors Come From Different Places for the Same Reason

After growing up in Massachusetts and finishing a Ph.D. at Harvard just last year, Assistant Professor of History Jakobina Arch now finds herself in a place unlike any she’s familiar with –– dry and empty eastern Washington –– as a new tenure-track history professor at Whitman College.

“This is a whole new area of the country for me, so [I’m looking forward to] getting a chance to go hiking and see some of the sorts of things that are nothing like where I’m from,” she said.

But for Visiting Assistant Professor of History Mollie Nouwen, a Portland native and Whitman graduate of the class of 2001, teaching at Whitman is like returning home.

“It hasn’t changed since I was here in significant ways,” said Nouwen in an email. “Students and faculty still come here to learn from the material and each other, and the sense of community is strong.”

After leaving Whitman with degrees in history and music theory/composition, Nouwen earned her masters and a Ph.D. in Latin American history at Emory University in Atlanta. She’s been teaching at the University of South Alabama for the past six years. Now she’s filling in for Professor of History Julie Charlip, her former thesis advisor, while Charlip is on sabbatical.  Nouwen is teaching courses on Latin American history with a focus on urban history and race and ethnicity.

“I was excited to come back to Whitman,” said Nouwen. “Some of my former professors are still teaching in the History Department.”

On the other side of the country, Arch studied biology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Through a need to fulfill distribution requirements, she found herself with a second degree in medieval Renaissance studies.

“That’s where I decided that liberal arts colleges were where I wanted to teach,” said Arch. “I was interested in history at the time, but I was being practical like ‘I’m going to have a science job that will pay well.’ Then I realized that what I liked is teaching, so it doesn’t actually matter what subject area it is. If you really enjoy it then you’re fine.”

Arch didn’t always know she wanted to teach, however. She realized she didn’t want to pursue biology while studying at Dalhousie University in Canada, where she completed her masters degree studying whale behavior. Before going to Harvard to study East Asian language and civilizations, she took time off from school to work and think about what she wanted to study.

Though Arch eventually deviated from biology, her background in science and marine research still plays a major role in her life as a historian.

“My project had a focus on the oceans and trying to figure out how people interact with the ocean in history,” said Arch. “Since that’s what I had been doing before, it became something that I wanted to look at.”

Specifically, she has explored Japan’s written history and its relationship with the ocean, being an island nation.

Over years of tutoring and educating in high school and college, Arch slowly realized that she had a passion for teaching.

“The more I did it, the more I realized I do enjoy it and therefore I should keep trying,” said Arch. “I’ve done a lot of different things that have involved teaching in some fashion.”

One of Arch’s advisors at Harvard was contacted directly by Whitman’s search committee to find candidates for a new environmental history position in the Department of History. It was this professor who told her about the opening.

“I hadn’t actually heard anything about Whitman before that, so it’s been an interesting process,” said Arch.

Her position will open up new courses in environmental history, a change from the department’s focus on geographic regions. This semester, she is teaching Resources in Environmental History and Early Japanese History, filling in for Associate Professor of History Brian Dott while he is on sabbatical.

Though she has only just arrived here, Arch is excited to be teaching at Whitman.

“One of the things I’m enjoying is the fact that students here are really engaged,” said Arch. “The fact that students really get a chance to interact with professors here in small classes is really important.”

This enthusiasm to work with the Whitman community is one thing Nouwen and Arch have in common.

“I’m excited to have engaged students that come to class prepared to engage the material in a meaningful way,” said Nouwen. “It’s also a pleasure to have wonderful colleagues.”

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