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Meet the faculty: a Q&A with new history professor Selda Altan

Selda Altan

Selda Altan

Randolph College’s 2019-20 academic year is underway, and several new faces have joined the faculty.

History professor Selda Altan is one of the new additions:

Where are you originally from and what is your career/educational background?

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.

What attracted you to the job at Randolph?

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.

What classes are you teaching this fall?

This fall, I teach East Asian Civilization to 1600 (HIS 123). The course covers the pre-modern history of China, Korea, and Japan. In Modern China (HIST 221), we study major political events in Chinese history from roughly the 18th century to the present, such as wars, rebellions, and revolutions. The topic of my seminar this semester is Women and Gender in China (HIST 307). In this course, we examine the construction of gender and sexuality in China from imperial to modern, and socialist to neoliberal phases of Chinese history.

Describe your teaching style. What can students expect in your classes?

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.

What are your initial impressions of Randolph and its students?

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.

What sorts of hobbies or fun activities do you enjoy outside the classroom?

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.

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Engaging, interactive classes are a hallmark of a Randolph College education and it all starts with our professors. Learn more about…

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