Postdoc profile: Chris Barker pursues teaching, research on political philosophy
In honor of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, Sept. 17-21, we're spotlighting postdoctoral fellows on the Ohio University campus. A postdoctoral scholar ("postdoc") is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.
By Taylor Evans
Sept. 21, 2012
Chris Barker joined Ohio University this fall as the Thomas W. Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in U.S. Legal and Constitutional History. He’s teaching two classes in the Department of History, conducting research on political thinkers of different eras and is working on a manuscript about the consistency of John Stuart Mill’s political philosophy.
“The reason I chose to come here is that I was very excited to teach within the history department,” said Barker, who previously served as a fellow at Harvard University and a visiting assistant professor at Boston College. “And to see whether as a political theorist I could contribute to the type of scholarship that frankly is somewhat different than the approach that we normally take.”
Barker teaches the undergraduate classes “Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution” and “American Constitutional History: From Origins to Reconstruction.” He uses his roots as a political theorist to put a new spin on the courses, taking his Intellectual Origins students all the way back to the teachings of Machiavelli. In American Constitutional History, a course that spans fall and spring semesters, he examines the Constitution and its precursors, as well as how the Constitution shapes our lives today.
Barker looks forward to connecting with students in the classroom.
“I’m extremely excited about both classes, which have been really fascinating so far for me,” he said. “I think I’ve learned a lot.”
Barker believes that postdoctoral work is important for a university and benefits students, faculty and the fellow himself. Postdoctoral fellows can offer a fresh perspective from other universities as well as specialized competencies.
“I think new voices are important,” Barker said. “It seems to me eminently defensible to bring in postdocs, especially teaching postdocs, who can give a different angle on what probably will be the same or similar courses from what’s normally offered.”
Although Barker only has been at Ohio University for a short time, he feels welcomed by the university community.
“I very much enjoy the faculty. It’s been wonderful interacting with them. Ohio University, Ohio University History and the George Washington Forum have all been extremely welcoming,” Barker said. “I find it very pleasing to come to an institution that is ‘open doors,’ so to speak, that has a real emphasis on undergraduate education.”
During his time here, he would like to work with faculty in other departments on campus. The postdoctoral position is renewable, making it possible for Barker to be here for up to two years.
“I hope that in my two years here I can reach out to other academic departments,” he said. “I’ve met people from (the departments of) philosophy thus far, as well as political science, and would very much like to engage them in constructive dialogues. That has happened and I hope it continues to happen.”