Four professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have been named Harvard College Professors in recognition of their contributions to undergraduate teaching, advising, and mentoring.
The new Harvard College Professors are Ann Blair, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History; Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science; Christopher Stubbs, professor of physics and astronomy; and Richard Thomas, professor of Greek and Latin.
The Harvard College Professorships were established in 1997, supported by a gift from John and Frances Loeb. The five-year appointments provide support for professional development, either in the form of research funding or summer salary. There are a total of 24 Harvard College Professorships.
The new class of Harvard College Professors shared their classroom philosophies, their views on balancing teaching and research, and their reaction to their new recognition as extraordinary educators.
— Amy Lavoie, Steve Bradt, and Emily T. Simon
Ann Blair receives the honor of being named Harvard College Professor as she celebrates 25 years since she was a student at the College.
“I am a big fan of Harvard undergraduates! I was one myself — this year is my 25th reunion,” says Blair. “The students today seem more amazingly diverse and involved in more different activities than they were 25 years ago, so they’re even more interesting to get to know.”
Blair teaches courses on early modern European history, intellectual history, and the history of the book.
“As a historian with a focus on cultural and intellectual history I emphasize reading texts in historical context,” says Blair. “In most of my courses I ask students to focus on primary sources and to attend to the different mental categories and historical circumstances from which past thinkers approached the questions they thought were important. Sometimes those questions are still with us today. Studying the assumptions taken for granted in the past can help us be aware of how our own historical context shapes our thinking.”
Blair says that the collaborative nature of teaching at Harvard is particularly rewarding.
“I’m surrounded by wonderful colleagues and staff who can help with advice and extra support as needed,” says Blair. “When I work with a team of teaching fellows, I find we all learn from each other about the material and the best ways to teach it.”
She explains that she loves teaching, and especially teaching at Harvard.
“I feel it’s a great privilege to be here,” says Blair.
“It is fantastic to work in such a lively and open atmosphere,” says
Janet Browne, who joined the Harvard faculty in 2006.
Browne teaches courses on the history of evolutionary biology, Darwinism, and natural history. Her courses include undergraduate and graduate seminars, as well as classes in the Core Curriculum and the Program in General Education.
“I am thrilled to receive this honor,” says Browne. “I would like to thank all the wonderful people in the History of Science department, the Collection of Historic Scientific Instruments, the Gen Ed program, the Bok Center, and the Science Center (Life Sciences 1b and Cabot Library especially), who have been so inventive and supportive in making ideas happen.”
Physics department chairman Christopher Stubbs was “astonished” when he opened the letter informing him of his selection as a Harvard College Professor, and “deeply honored” by the recognition.
“I strive to make the research frontier in science accessible to undergraduate students, and incorporate those topics into the classroom at every opportunity,” Stubbs says. “My field of research is cosmology, the study of the ingredients and interactions in the universe, and we’re living through a golden age of discovery. Bringing the excitement of science as an ongoing process into the classroom is one of my main goals.”
Since coming to Harvard in 2003, Stubbs has taught freshman seminars, courses in the introductory physics sequence, tutorials for astronomy concentrators, and several graduate-level classes. He had already been planning to develop several new courses — including a new General Education class — and says his Harvard College Professorship will allow him to devote time over the summer to these efforts.
“I thoroughly enjoy the freshman seminar where we discuss the fact that 95 percent of the universe is made of stuff that doesn’t appear in the periodic table,” he says. “It’s a delight to introduce our first-year students, especially those who don’t intend to pursue a science degree, to the frontier of ignorance in modern cosmology.”
Teaching and research complement and reinforce each other in his life at Harvard, says Stubbs, whose research group is a community of scholars that includes undergraduates, staff, graduate students, and postdoctoral scientists. This summer, his team will welcome three new undergraduates as partners in the challenges of building apparatus, making measurements, and analyzing results.
“I think that much of the important learning at Harvard happens outside the lecture halls, especially in the sciences,” Stubbs says.
As professor of Greek and Latin in the Classics Department, Richard Thomas delves into the ancient world to illuminate the work of literary greats such as Horace and Virgil. But his investigations frequently make connections to the present — for example, the music of Bob Dylan.
“Dylan’s recent lyrics allude to classical texts, especially the poetry of Ovid,” says Thomas. “I have found it fascinating to explore that relationship, and to see Dylan engaging many of the same very human issues confronted by the great poets of Greece and Rome.”
His excitement about the classics and his ability to make the subject matter relevant and contemporary are hallmarks of Thomas’ courses.
“It is a delight year after year to introduce new students to the poets who have inspired two millennia of readers, and who remain as fresh and vital as they have ever been, a delight also to get new insights from the questions new generations of students bring to these texts,” Thomas says.
Thomas teaches a variety of offerings, including a General Education course on the poetry of Virgil and its reception, undergraduate courses in Latin literature, a graduate course on Latin prose composition, and a course on Dylan and his lyrics. Thomas currently serves as director of graduate studies for the department. Next year he will switch to director of undergraduate studies.
“It is a great honor to receive this award,” he says. “I have been fortunate to have spent all but three of my 32 teaching years at Harvard. The students and the libraries are what appealed to me from the moment I arrived, and it’s easy to forget just what a privilege Harvard faculty enjoy in this community of teaching and learning, particularly in such challenging times as these.”