Timothy Olin began teaching at Central College in 2016. An assistant professor of history, he completed bachelor and master degrees in German at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and master and doctorate degrees in history from Purdue University.
What’s the best part of history studies?
My favorite thing about what I do is being able to travel. After completing my master’s degree, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Kyrgyzstan (former Soviet Central Asia). To write my dissertation, I lived in Austria, Hungary, Romania and Serbia in order to collect documents from archives. While in Serbia, my wife and son came to stay with me for a month, and we celebrated his birthday at a beach on the Danube River, so that was a pretty cool experience for everyone.
What is your favorite history to teach?
I really enjoy teaching all aspects of European history. I am especially interested in the early modern period (where my research interests lie). I also find the history of Russia and the Soviet Union fascinating. I am lucky to be able to teach both types of history here at Central.
What is commonly misunderstood about history?
I think many people believe that history is static or that there’s only one way to view the past. In fact, every generation reinterprets history in order to make it applicable to the world in which they live. This makes the study of history exciting.
What history is especially important for our country?
I think most people in the US know that we are a country largely made up of immigrants (Native Americans naturally excepted, though their ancestors “immigrated” from Siberia as well long ago), but they haven’t really internalized what that means. That is why it is so sad to see the resistance to immigration that is part and parcel of the political landscape today. That said, this isn’t just a twenty-first century problem or one limited to the USA. Throughout history, people have often resisted groups they deemed “outsiders” from integrating into their societies. The solution (if there is one) lies in greater empathy and the understanding that in this country, immigration has historically been a net positive for our society and culture.
What new work interests you most right now?
I’m quite interested in the study of nationalism. I am particularly interested in how people acquire a national, regional, or transnational identity. There have been some recent works on “national indifference” that are interesting and controversial.
What’s on your bucket list?
I’d love to travel more. In particular, I’d like to make it to Africa.