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Jennifer K. Deane

Associate Professor of History
Award Year: 
2012

Deane was nominated for this award because she is “an exemplary teacher, advisor, scholar, and community citizen.” The nominating committee continues, “Professor Deane takes her teaching very seriously, imaginatively constructing and revising her courses, and she is very good at it—not only in courses aimed at history majors or in her own research fields, but in introductory general education classes as well. Her enthusiasm is infectious, as is her commitment to the objectives of a liberal arts education.”

Deane’s goal in the classroom is not necessarily to train medieval historians. Instead, she trains students to understand what historians do, how they do it, and why it matters. She draws upon the content of medieval and early modern European history to sharpen students’ critical thinking, verbal communication, and writing skills. “I want my students to step outside of their own perspective, and try regarding the world through some else’s eyes and assumptions. That’s when horizons really start expanding.” says Deane.

Deane is always looking for new and creative ways to reach her students. She describes herself as a “perfectionist—like many faculty” and says, “No matter how well a class goes, I always have the feeling that it could have been just a little bit better if only…and that’s where both the fun and pressure come in.” She finds teaching inspiration not only by recalling her own experiences as an undergraduate, but also in colleagues’ innovative practices, and from her own ongoing research and reading. For example, in her Early Modern Europe course, students participate in salons modeled on 17th and 18th century French intellectual gatherings and in her World History course, students become travelers on the Silk Road through central Asia. While interacting with their fellow travelers (classmates) based on medieval primary source documents, the students are monitored by border guards (teaching assistants). Deane enjoys using role-plays in her teaching, “Whatever type of activity we’re doing, my favorite teaching moments always happen when the students take off in the roles and the debate becomes their own.”

Even coming from an academic background, Deane still had to overcome a large obstacle to be an effective teacher: shyness. As she says, “It was awfully hard at first to get up in front of people and learn to teach in graduate school. I was so painfully shy when I was younger that I could hardly speak up in class. It’s one of the reasons I try to encourage all of my students to practice speaking in front of others.”

Her students get encouragement in all aspects of their lives. As an advisor, students are often waiting outside her office to speak with her about course related or advising related topics. As Stephen Harper ’13, Hastings, says, “Jennifer encourages students to excel in every aspect of her class whether it be further refining their writing style or to help them gain a deeper understanding of their subject matter: she is a tremendous asset. She takes pride in developing students to their fullest potential.”

Deane earned her B.A. in European History from the University of Washington, Seattle and her MA and Ph.D. in Medieval and Early Modern European History from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Jennifer K. Deane