Whitman Hires New Environmental Historian Professor

Josephine Adamski

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Illustration by MaryAnne Bowen.

The history department has hired Jakobina Arch to fill a new tenure-track position as assistant professor of environmental history. Arch will be hired under the sabbatical replacement program to increase the size of permanent faculty instead of continuing to fill visiting professor spots.

The search started in August with 90 applicants and extended until early February. The decision to create this position occurred after the history department underwent an external review that entailed an investigation of the department to evaluate, understand and then strengthen the department. The reviewers suggested establishing an environmental historian position to increase the breadth of the department’s course offerings. 

“In 2011, the department underwent an external review, and one of their recommendations was that we consider adding a positing in environmental history because environmental studies is really important at Whitman, and many other departments like ours are going in the direction,”  said Associate Professor of History John Cotts, who was the head of the environmental history search committee in charge of the hiring process.

The hiring process was conducted by a committee consisting of all tenure-track members of the history department, along with Associate Professor of Politics and Chair of Division I Bruce Magnusson and Senior Lecturer of Environmental Humanities Don Snow.  

This committee was supplemented by a student search committee consisting of five history majors. The student committee provided a student perspective on each candidate by evaluating each candidate’s effectiveness as a professor. The students attended each candidate’s sample lecture and research presentation and then gave reports to the search committee on their opinions and suggestions.

“I think that our opinion was definitely taken into consideration, and I think Cotts really strove to have that to avoid something like previous situations … we were definitely listened to. We obviously don’t know how much weight our opinion carries, but it was definitely considered,” said sophomore Jack Percival, who was on the five-student committee.

“I think she has a very global focus, and I think that will expand us beyond our traditional geographical boundaries, and we don’t have many global courses like the ones she is proposing. It will absolutely strengthen the department. She gives us a more diverse global curriculum and also will, in my opinion, make us one of the best small liberal arts college in the East Asian history department,” said Cotts.

Arch is an environmental historian who specializes in Japanese history. She is currently working on her dissertation on the marine environmental history of whales in early modern Japan. What lies ahead for Arch is crafting the new field of environmental history within the department.    

“Right now I think my greatest challenge will be the fact that I am starting a whole new field in the department, so I will be creating entirely new environmental history courses rather than adapting the courses inherited from someone previously in the position.” said Arch in an email.

She hopes that her time at Whitman will not only be beneficial to the students at Whitman but also beyond the classroom.

“I want to develop and offer good courses that help students think about history in new ways. I want to inspire students to think and talk about the ways that people have shaped the environment we live in now and what it might be in the future, and not just while in class.” said Arch. 

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