Welcome to the Department of Historical Studies website. It’s a great honour and privilege to introduce myself as the new Chair of Historical Studies. I have watched the department grow and change in my eleven years here, and I’m thrilled to say that we are one of the largest and most vibrant departments at the University of Toronto. Our dynamic, lively, and diverse faculty continues to expand; we consistently attract not only top scholars to come and be a part of our team, but also great students from all over the world who tell me often how thrilled they are with the depth and breadth of our course offerings and extra-curricular events. I have always loved being a part of the UTM community, teaching and researching in the field of Holocaust and postwar European History. Where else do you get to teach students whose backgrounds are Albanian, Bosnian, Chinese, Croatian, Ethiopian, Indian, Korean, Pakistani, Portugese, Serbian, Sri Lankan, Sudanese… the list goes on and on. I teach a subject which represents one of the darkest chapters in World History, and have always found that my students were there to try to understand how to combat the factors that lead down the slippery slope from racial persecution, to segregation, to expulsion, and to murder. They all in some ways have shared in the understanding that it is the turning away, the indifference, the apathy towards one’s neighbours that creates an atmosphere in which governments and nations can engage in terrible crimes.
Many students here at UTM and in Historical Studies bring their own histories of persecution, war, and displacement to the classroom; those who have not had to endure such horrors learn from their fellow students in the seat next to them. It is immeasurably rewarding to teach such engaged, interested students, and this to me is what makes Historical Studies at UTM special. It is especially humbling now to Chair this department as it moves forward and continues to grow. The multidisciplinary nature of this department – with scholars in the fields of Classics, History, Women and Gender Studies, Diaspora and Transnational Studies, Religion, South Asian Civilizations and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, whose fields truly represent virtually all of the globe.
Our mission, to foster critical and global engagement with the humanities through a trans-disciplinary approach to our teaching and research, is testament to our ongoing desire that we all keep the lines of communication open, in the hope that understanding, empathy, and peace are not far behind. While this may seem like an enormous and daunting mission, it is within our reach. I have seen great things happen here in classrooms, in our lunchtime lecture series Prandium, and in the department as a whole; I look forward to continuing the tradition dialogue and growth that this wonderful place has so carefully and conscientiously nurtured.
Enjoy exploring our website and we look forward to having you visit us in the Department of Historical Studies!
Rebecca Wittmann, Chair