Monday, January 28, 2013

Five Questions for Dan Richter

From the Facebook page of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies:

We went straight to the top and asked Dan Richter, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, five questions.

1. What inspired you to become an historian?
Believe it or not, it was when Frank Bremer made me read Perry Miller's New England Mind as an undergraduate. I was absolutely fascinated by the idea that one could try to inhabit the consciousness of people who lived in a very different time and place. Of course I don't believe that's really possible any more, but it is what helped to get me started.

2. Read any good books or articles lately?

3. What's your favorite movie that takes American history as its subject?
Actually, I hate watching movies about American history, and my spouse hates it even more when she drags me to see one. I'm prone to spend all my time pointing out the inaccuracies and oversimplifications.

4. What have you learned by being an adviser to graduate students?
That it's a tremendously hard job. When I first came to Penn after 14 years of teaching only undergraduates, I thought graduate teaching was a piece of cake; seminars, at least, seemed to run themselves. But I've learned that the hard part is figuring out exactly when to push and when to let go and how to manage the psychological part of advising, which is really the most challenging--especially as I see many of the same fears and insecurities that have always plagued me playing out in various ways for tremendously talented young people. I love the work, though, and I love all my students. Or most of them anyway.

5. How many ties do you own?
I have no idea, but I have two large bags of them that are food-stained beyond all hope of recovery.