Daniel Immerwahr is a professor, historian and bestselling author of How to Hide an Empire, which was named one of the top 10 books of 2019 by the Chicago Tribune.

Most students know Professor Immerwahr for teaching HISTORY 250-2, Global History: A Modern World. It is a popular distro course that enrolls between 100-200 students per quarter. Many appreciate that Immerwahr tries to get to know each of his students despite teaching a large class.

His upbringing played a role in shaping his decision to pursue academia — both his parents taught at universities just outside of Philadelphia. Immerwahr went to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree. He intended to major in music and math, thinking he would pursue a career in jazz piano, but ended up graduating with majors in philosophy and history.

Read on to learn more about Immerwahr’s involvement at Northwestern as a professor and residential college fellow.

First of all, I hear you had planned on majoring in math at Columbia?

I love math, and I still do. I took the calculus sequence, and then I got into some advanced math topology. I loved it. I loved the aesthetic. It didn't feel like it was going to be a career in any kind of way, but it was really interesting.

Fast forward, now you teach HISTORY 250-2 at Northwestern. It’s a large lecture course with a lot of non-history major students.

Correct. Usually when I check it’s about seven percent of the classes are either a history major or minor, and we try to make that number go up over the course of the quarter.

For the non-history majors and minors, what do you want those students to take away from that class?

The history department doesn't largely teach history majors and minors. Most of the people we teach are taking a few courses with us. And we welcome that, and I particularly welcome that, I love it. I don't think everyone needs to be a historian, but it is very exciting to me if someone's going to be an engineer, and be a consultant, and be a journalist, and be a doctor, and they actually have some understanding of what happened in the past. That works for me.

I don't assume a lot of prior knowledge, but I do assume that people are pretty smart and can figure things out. Then I look at that modern history class as a way to introduce people to some of the most important research that's been done in history, but also to get them to a point where they can explain major features of their world.

For your book How to Hide an Empire, who was the intended audience?

When I pitched it to my editor, I said the intended audience is a plucky undergraduate. And what I mean by that is not particularly that I was aiming at 18- to 19-year-olds, but anyone who might not know a lot yet but was sharp and curious. One thing that really pleased me about the book is that it gets assigned in high schools, and it gets assigned in graduate seminars. I like that high schoolers can get something out of it, and I like that it’s also a substantial scholarly work that can be read in a graduate seminar.

You’re also a res college fellow for Willard and PARC. Why did you decide to become a fellow?

I like teaching students in class, but that's a specific kind of interaction. It is a different kind of interaction to meet students over a meal. We talk about different things, I learn different things about them. I like that part of it. And they're not performing for me because they're not in my class. So that feels like an important part of my being here as a part of a college community.

Immerwahr declined to be featured in a video.

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