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Selda Altan

Image of Selda Altan AltanAssistant Professor of History
B.A., M.A., Bogaziçi University; Ph.D., New York University

I am originally from Istanbul, Turkey. I received my undergraduate degree in history and sociology at Bogazici University, Istanbul. As an undergraduate, I attended two summer schools at Tianjin Normal University in China to improve my Chinese. For my master’s degree in history at Bogazici University, I studied at Nanjing University for one year on a Chinese government scholarship. I completed my research in China with an additional semester in Beijing Normal University. When I returned to Turkey, I worked as the assistant to the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at Bogazici University. In 2010, I was admitted to the Ph.D. program in history at New York University. After three years of coursework in New York, I researched in Chinese and French archives. I received my doctorate in 2017 with a dissertation entitled, “Labor and the Politics of Life Along the Yunnan-Indochina Railway, 1898-1911.” Since then, I taught at Swarthmore College and the University of Florida.

I was impressed by Randolph’s commitment to teach Asian history while many liberal arts colleges focus on American and European studies. The global studies program and Chinese language classes convinced me that Randolph is a great institution to pursue my academic goals in training global citizens with sensibilities to the people beyond their borders. During my one-year work at Swarthmore College, I also enjoyed the close contact between students and professors. It was very different from my earlier experience at large research universities where students usually come to college with predetermined academic interests and goals. In a liberal arts college, on the other hand, professors have a larger role in feeding and shaping the curiosity of the students.

The most important component of my classes is participation. I want my students to engage with the material and turn our lectures and readings into usable and functional knowledge. My classes (not seminars) usually begin with a brief lecture on the daily topic and continue with an activity. This can be a close reading and discussion of a primary source (document, original text, video clip, or photo) or a hands-on activity, such as designing an issue of a historical periodical or a poster, solving a puzzle, and role playing activities. I enjoy my classes most when there is noise and movement in the classroom.

Having worked in many different cultural and institutional settings, I can say that student diversity at Randolph is extraordinary. While I am aware that it comes with many challenges in terms of our teaching methods and efficiency, the energy I felt at the convocation ceremony reflects the dynamism and potential of this unique student body. Their boldness is the guarantee of a great learning environment.

I spend my free time with my 4-year-old daughter and my husband. We have a real sweet tooth, so I bake at least three times a week. Shopping at the farmer’s market and cooking fresh vegetables is my favorite activity on Saturdays. Literature is my passion since childhood. Not to lose my Turkish writing ability, I write pieces on Asian literature, culture, and history in my personal blog called Asyatik. I also like puzzles, but I avoid them during the semester because I cannot stop once I start.

Chelsea Berry

Image of Chelsea BerryAssistant Professor of History
B.A., Brown University; Ph.D. Georgetown University

I grew up in the woods in the great state of Vermont. Since high school I’ve steadily been moving southward: first to college at Brown University in Providence, R.I., then to graduate school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and now to Lynchburg. I’ve (mostly) adjusted to the heat with each southward move.

I came to Randolph for the chance to work closely with students in a small liberal arts college setting. I was attracted by Randolph’s commitment to enriching each student’s education and the opportunity—thanks to Randolph’s size—to really get to know everyone in my classes.

My teaching style is highly interactive. Expect lots of questions! My goal in lecture is to pull students in to our exploration of the week. I know I’ve succeeded when students are so engaged that they start asking questions of their own.

The students at Randolph have been curious, gregarious, and game to wrestle with questions in class, and my colleagues in the faculty have been very generous in helping me find my feet. I couldn’t have landed in a better place!

Despite my time in the city, I still feel the outdoors calling to me. I love to hike. Whenever I’m abroad on research, I look for trails as potential adventures (I’ve hiked Montaigne Sainte Victoire, near the French colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence, five times now). Hiking has also fed my interest in amateur photography; my office is festooned with hiking and other travel photos from New Zealand to Scotland to Brazil.

John d`Entremont

Image of John d`EntremontThe Theodore H. Jack Professor of History, Chair of the Department
B.A., M.A., University of Virginia; M.S., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University

The past matters because the future matters– and history is as much about the future as it is about the past.

And so, in an ideal world, my final exams would always consist of one essay question, and would always be the same: On the basis of what you know about American history, how would you raise your children?

History, as a subject for study, isn’t one vast game of trivial pursuit, or one gargantuan vacuum cleaner, sucking up and storing everything any human being ever did. Certainly it can be taught that way– tediously, dreadfully. But what makes it important is not its call to memorize a torrent of facts and dates, but rather its challenge to us to understand ourselves, and to make the most of the understanding.

We are part of a continuum, the latest in a procession of hundreds of generations. Those who came before us were no less alive than we are now; they now are no more dead than we will be. The Great Casting Director has placed us in different acts, but we are all in the same play. When we take our place among the actors of the past, we should hope to pass on to those of the future something of value. And to do that, we need to know what we consider valuable– and why.

And so, in all my teaching about the United States, my hope is that students will first digest a substantial body of essential information, and then make serious use of it to better comprehend how this nation came to be the way it is. I want them to ponder how various groups of Americans– and sometimes Americans as a whole– came to have particular values, priorities, and assumptions. I want them to know something about why and how Americans have argued with one another (often fiercely, and occasionally bloodily) about how they should translate those things into private behavior and public policy. And I want them to be able to articulate and defend their own values, priorities and assumptions– their own, not those of their parents, their teachers, or anyone else– always grounding their positions firmly in knowledge, logic and humane values. If they can do that, they might be on their way to understanding what it is about the past’s legacy they want to change, and what about it they will strive to keep– in short, how they will raise their children.

My personal biography is of little consequence. I am passionate about politics and current affairs, but usually try hard to keep my political views out of the classroom. I am much more interested in urging students to have real thoughts and considered positions (as opposed to knee-jerk reactions and visceral attitudes) than in indoctrinating them or telling them what they should think. I am deeply interested in reform movements, past and present, and the extent to which reformers are ever able to produce or guide social change.

I make little distinction between “work” and “fun.” Almost nothing is more fun to me than my work as a historian– the mucking about in archives and libraries, assembling clues from the detritus of the past and then putting them together to solve a problem or illuminate a mystery. I am not a historian and a teacher because I can’t do anything else that pays better. I am a teacher and a historian because I love it.

That said, I suppose I have passions that people might regard as not necessarily associated with my “work”: my wife; my friends; wide travel on six continents; baseball; film; theatre; animals and all issues concerning our relationships with them; Virginia and its history; and my favorite city on earth: London.

Gerard Sherayko

Image of Gerard SheraykoProfessor of History
B.A, Widener University; M.A., Pennsylvania State University; Ph.D., Indiana University

When I applied for a teaching position here, I had never heard of the College. I knew I wanted to teach at a small school, but I had no idea how much I would fall in love with this campus, its students, and its emphasis on academics. This place is more than a job for me. There is something special here that makes you feel at home. We’re able to do so much more in class because of the College’s small size.

My classes give me the opportunity to help students understand their world and the importance of history. I teach courses on general 20th century European history, German history and Russian history as well as seminars such as Propaganda, Genocide, The Holocaust, and Women and the Two World Wars. I also teach a course entitled Paris and Berlin in the 1920s: A Cultural History. This class, inspired by my own scholarly research on the evolution of a consumer culture in Germany during the 1920s, explores the unprecedented explosion of artistic creativity that emerged from the cafes, cabarets, and studios of Paris and Berlin.

Like most of the professors here, I try to bring my classroom alive for students. You can’t learn everything from just one textbook. Since I love movies, I integrate films into all of my classes. I also assign novels, memoirs, and biographies and utilize images to provide a visual context for many of the topics discussed in my courses.

But most importantly, we talk. One of my favorite aspects about the College is its diversity. There are so many international students here and in my classes. When I am teaching about various events, it is amazing to have students from places like Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Nepal, Germany, Argentina, Jamaica, Mongolia, and Romania sharing their and their families’ stories. These different perspectives add so much to class discussions.

I, along with faculty colleagues, have also taken students to Prague and Berlin as part of a course entitled Coming to Terms with the Past. While on this trip, we visited many important historical sites and museums that deal with the imperial, Nazi and communist pasts and met many eyewitnesses to history including a Holocaust survivor, a Czech pilot who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II, and a former East German prisoner. Randolph College Associate Professor of French Jamie Rohrer and I have also taken students to Paris and Berlin for a course entitled Capitals of Culture. Since this course concentrated on art, architecture, literature and cinema of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we visited museums such as the Musée d’Orsay, Musée Picasso and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Film Museum, Jewish Museum, and Bauhaus Museum in Berlin.

I have also participated in Randolph College’s American Culture Program. Dealing with issues such as the impact of Disney on America and the theme of movement in American culture, I, along with colleagues with expertise in fields such as gender studies, geography, American literature, and folklore have taken students to Jamestown, Williamsburg, Savannah, Orlando, Washington, Philadelphia and New York City.

I also frequently lead field trips to Washington, D.C. to visit museums such as the National Gallery and the Holocaust Museum. My goal is to take students on a summer trip to Germany for a course on the impact of World War II in the next few years.

Given my expertise in twentieth century German history, I joined the board of the Holocaust Education Foundation of Central Virginia soon after I arrived in Lynchburg. As a member of the board, I’ve been able to help bring several guest speakers to Lynchburg to discuss issues surrounding the impact of the Holocaust. I’ve brought two Holocaust survivors to speak at the Randolph College campus: Eva Kor, whose life story is featured in the documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele, and Gerda Weissmann Klein. Klein’s story is presented in the Academy Award winning documentary One Survivor Remembers and I use her memoir All But My Life in my introductory modern European history course.

Besides my interest in history I have a passion for historic preservation. Inspired by an architectural boat tour of Chicago over twenty years ago, I became involved in historic preservation efforts while a graduate student back in Indiana. In 2006 I joined the board of the Friends of Rivermont Historical Foundation (FORHS) and in 2007 I became the board president. Dedicated to preserving and improving the beauty, safety and community spirit of Historic Rivermont, the FORHS board conducts several community outreach programs including an annual ice cream social and a holiday lights tour. In addition, in 2010 and 2011 I participated in the College’s Summer Research Program to conduct research on the individual buildings within the Rivermont Avenue Historic District (including Randolph College). Working with four RC History majors, we gathered information and took photos of the buildings within the Rivermont Avenue Historic District for the FORHS website

When I’m not teaching, you are most likely to find me traveling. My wife, Carolyn, and I love to visit art museums, buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, presidential sites, movie palaces, and classic diners. We also like to check out weird attractions such as the World’s Largest Bull or the World’s Largest Badger or the two competing World’s Largest Balls of Twine. We’ve even seen the World’s Largest Talking Cow, which rests beside the World’s Largest Replica Cheese in Neillsville, Wisconsin. As always, we hope to hit a few more presidential sites and unique roadside attractions this year.

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