Historian Molly Giblin, Dominican University’s 2017-2019 Lund-Gill Chair, is a veteran of college honors programs. In this Q&A, Giblin says Dominican’s program stands apart because it offers “so much room for exploration”—and not just for the students.

Q: What have been some highlights of your time as Lund-Gill Chair?

MG: I’ve gotten to teach things I thought I would only teach in my wildest dreams, courses like the History of Travel and the History of Drugs, which grew out of my research on the 19th century Opium Wars in China. It’s brought me out of my comfort zone in ways that are really interesting for me intellectually and it’s also acquainted me with students who have tremendous capacity for good thinking.

Q: Tell me about the History of Travel. What’s your approach to teaching such an expansive topic?

MG: We telescope in and out, using travel literature from Marco Polo on up to the present day TV travel shows. We examine the ways in which people from one place encounter people from another place, and in so doing come to a deeper understanding of their home culture.

Q: What is special about Dominican’s honors program?

MG: There’s so much room for student exploration. I’ve been in other honors programs, I was the product of an honors program in my own education, and they usually just involve more courses or more difficult courses with just a little research tacked on at the end. But here the courses and the whole curriculum is set up to allow students to pursue their own interests while engaging in very rigorous intellectual work. That’s important regardless of what they’re going to do later. But for the students who are going on to law school, graduate school or medical school, this is where they can begin the kind of work that those programs will be looking for.

Q: As Lund-Gill Chair, what kinds of interactions and collaborations do you have with students?

MG: I help supervise students working on senior capstone projects. I’ve also had students from fields very different from mine, and that really expands the conversation in the classroom. They think of things I would not have thought of. I am a historian and I think like a historian. Having people from biology and neuroscience and business really makes the conversation much richer.

Q: Your own research focuses on French imperial influence in 19th-century China. How did you first get interested in that?

MG: After I finished my MA in history, I found a job teaching English in Hong Kong. I was volunteering on the weekends at the French consulate there. I noticed they were running an intercultural diplomacy program called the Year of France in China. And it was really celebratory. I knew from my previous studies that the relationship had not always been that friendly. So, I wanted to explore that relationship and what kinds of memories were being discarded and why.

Q: What lessons from that period and from your research can we apply to today?

MG: It offers a way to address the problem of deliberate forgetting and selective historical amnesia, which can result in certain people being written out of society. That pushing aside is what can lead to contemporary inequality. And if we can see the roots of that we can sometimes begin to address the real issues that are at work here.

Q: You were among the first scholars to create a profile on Women Also Know History, the online directory created in 2018 to end the I-didn’t-know-any-women-excuse for all-male panels. Is it working?

MG: Women are the vast majority of PhDs in the humanities, but they’re really underrepresented in tenure-track jobs, in the media and on academic panels. So this allows women to claim our expertise and to use it. I think it has been effective. The talking heads on TV news shows and at academic conferences have begun to look a bit more like the people who are actually practicing in the field.

Q: You lived in Hong Kong and Beijing for a number of years. What is the value of traveling and living abroad for students and scholars?

MG: I grew up in a working class family in Lackawanna, New York. I was raised with the narrative that America was the greatest country in the world and that the rest of the world was a scary place. I found that really was not the case and that a lot of our misconceptions about China were completely unfounded and based on racism and other biases. I learned not only to appreciate another culture but also that one’s way of doing things is not the only way. Encountering that difference made me a better American in some ways and also a better teacher and a better scholar. And then on a lighter note, the food is really good. Go and eat yummy things around the world!

Q: Favorite dish?

MG: Tibetan food is really awesome. And Tibetan food is not something I ever would have encountered in Lackawanna. It’s not a thing we had.