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Faculty Focus – Dr. John O'Keefe

Faculty Focus – Dr. John O'Keefe

Dr. John O'Keefe

  • Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

  • Title: Associate Professor

  • Department: History

  • Number of Years Teaching: 9 years 

  • Number of Years at OHIO Chillicothe: 7 years

  • Degrees/University/Dates:

    • Ph.D., George Washington University, 2012

    • B.A., University of Chicago, 2000

  • Biography: https://www.ohio.edu/chillicothe/okeefe

Q.  What led you to OHIO Chillicothe?

     "In my job search, I was looking for a place that had small classes and a mission to serve students who would benefit strongly from a college degree. I've been really lucky to have found that here at OUC."

Q: What are the areas of campus and community engagement in which you are involved? How does this support or impact your teaching?

     "I've done a number of talks for special events on campus, and I'm always happy to see the lively, informative discussions that we've had at those events, connecting people to history and showing its impact on our lives. I'm also on the board of Friends of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, and we're working to build more connections between the park, the community, and OU students. History is all around us, and part of what has made our community what it is!"

Q: Who is your biggest role model and why? 

      "Rather than focus on an individual person, I'd like to emphasize how many people serve as role models for us in different ways. I was fortunate to have a very strong and supportive graduate program, where many faculty gave us guidance for our professional paths forward: how to research, how to write and think critically, how to engage with the public in history, and how to prepare ourselves for careers in history. It wasn't just my professors either: my fellow graduate students helped to foster a culture of learning from each other and supporting each other."

Q. What are some of your recent accomplishments or successes you would like to share with others?

     "After much researching and writing, my book, Stranger Citizens (https://amzn.to/3Cpq9Qb) has been published! I've been really excited to share the research within it with others -- I just did a podcast interview with the 1869 podcast of Cornell University Press (https://bit.ly/3kzXbqm), where I got to talk about not just the scholarly importance of my book, but share some great stories from the people I researched and their lives."

Q. What is one (or two) books every student should read and why? 

     "One book that I really admire for showing the historian's craft is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale. Ulrich is able to use a midwife's diary from the early 1800s to make so many connections, and make one woman's world come alive in such a fascinating, engaging way. Another book, which I have sometimes assigned in my World History classes, is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. It's an absolutely gripping tale across three generations as her family survived the chaos of the collapse of imperial rule, Japanese occupation, and tumultuous changes under Communist rule." 

Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give students?

     "The vast majority of professors want you to succeed and do well! Reach out to them and stop by their office hours for a chat. We want to give you the tools for success, and are willing to help you. We know many of you are juggling work/life/school balance and while I expect a lot from my students, I'm always understanding of students who are facing significant challenges if they get in touch with me." 

Q. When you were in college, what were your interests?  

     "It's okay to change plans! I was a biology major when I first started, but after taking a language class where the professor provided a lot of context about historical language change, I changed my major to linguistics. This was just as that field was starting to have a lot of practical applications to internet companies, and my first job ended being for a search engine startup -- followed by a company that created searchable databases of historical documents, which led to my path to graduate school."

Q. How would your co-workers describe your teaching style and personality?   

     "Lively and enthusiastic! I find that one of the best way to engage students and get them to learn in transformative ways is though Reacting to the Past games: stepping into the role of characters in an important historical event, and thinking deeply and differently about what it was like to confront major historical issues from different perspectives in time."

Q. Tell us a little about your love for history:

     "I find that looking into the past reveals so much of the human condition. People in the past were often so clever, thoughtful, and innovative in ways that we don't always expect!"

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself or your work?

     "I also really like to cook -- I make an excellent risotto as well as many other dishes. Making a good meal is also a good time to catch up on history podcasts!"