Julia Irwin, History

Julia Irwin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History & Undergraduate Coordinator
College of Arts and Sciences

Teaching Philosophy

My fundamental goal, as an educator, is to teach my students how recent historical events and processes have shaped the world in which we all live—and, in so doing, to prepare my students to be engaged global citizens.

As a historian of U.S. foreign relations, I put this philosophy into practice everyday, for the courses I teach focus primarily on the United States and its relations with the world. In such courses as "Globalization and U.S. Culture," "U.S. Foreign Relations," and "The U.S. and the Cold War World," I urge my undergraduate students to recognize how both state and non-state actors have played a part in U.S. foreign affairs throughout history, and to see how American social, cultural, economic, and political ideas and institutions have spread throughout the world. At the same time, I encourage students to think about the ways that people and events from outside the United States have shaped American domestic history. In these courses, I demonstrate to students how global and cultural systems and issues, interrelationships and interdependencies, influenced the development of the United States itself. I also teach them about important trends in modern international history, including human rights, humanitarianism, development, and global health. Only by learning about the histories of these complex issues, I believe, will students be prepared to grapple with them in the 21st century.

This teaching philosophy extends even to my "Theory and Methods of History" course, a required capstone course for majors. Here, my goal is for students to appreciate the global character of the historical profession itself. In this course, we compare how the discipline of history evolved in different national contexts, considering how historical practices in France, Germany, India, and other countries influenced the study of history in the United States. We also analyze important recent trends in the discipline, such as transnational and postcolonial histories, and explore how these new approaches have globalized the study of history. My aim is to show students that even as undergraduate history majors, they represent part of a global community of historical scholars.

In all of these courses, I introduce students to the concepts, events, and people that are central to the history of U.S. global relations. As an educator, however, I believe that my responsibility extends well beyond teaching just content and relevant subject matter. In each and every course that I teach, I aspire to fulfill a pair of additional goals. First, I aim to nurture a passion for the study of history and the humanities more broadly. I want my students not only to discuss, read, and write history well, but also to find real pleasure in those activities. Having fostered this interest, my second objective is to teach students that there is more to history than memorizing a core set of bygone facts. I show them that practicing history is, by its very nature, a complicated and imprecise endeavor. I urge students to assess what I tell them critically and to recognize that there are multiple ways to interpret any historical event. Indeed, I consider my semester a success when students question the lessons that I teach them, embrace uncertainty, and develop confidence as independent, critical thinkers. Even as I push students to recognize that history is not an exact science, I also teach them that good history is more than mere guesswork. There is a method to historical inquiry, and by learning and employing the skills and practices of professional historians, students can reach more reasoned and logical conclusions about the past. Together, these goals—nurturing a lifelong love of history and the humanities while encouraging students to think critically about their studies of the past—lie at the heart of my approach to teaching.

In sum, through the study of history, I want students to develop a greater self-awareness of how they—whether as U.S. citizens or citizens of other countries residing in the United States—interact with the world around them. I aspire to prepare each and every one of my undergraduates to be critically engaged, compassionate, and thoughtful global citizen