For Visiting Lecturer of History Jessica Christian ’07, the past is always present. Although she’s teaching an introduction to US history course, the subjects she’s covering—which include disease, colonization, environmentalism, and politics—feel both modern and familiar in a year marked by a global pandemic, protests for racial justice, and an unprecedented presidential election season.
She began the semester with an article on the environmental aspects of colonization by Tongva and Acjachemen scholar Charles Sepulveda, prompting a discussion of The Claremont Colleges’ location and students’ knowledge of Native histories in their own regions. More recently, her class read about Asian American community responses to the 1918 flu pandemic, comparing them to the responses to COVID-19. Students who choose to compare pandemic histories for this semester’s research paper projects can contribute to the Ella Strong Denison Library’s new archive on the pandemic and protests, highlighting the fact that 2020 has been a year of history in the making.
“The great thing about teaching a general history class is that we get to touch on a lot of different subjects,” Christian said. “My own research deals with women, gender, and colonization in Southern California from 1769–1930, but all of these issues are ongoing.”
She believes that the skills learned from a history liberal arts degree can be useful in any career field, an idea she hopes to impart to her students. “Attention to critical thinking and primary source analysis can help you be successful in politics, reporting, teaching, law, or public relations, just to name a few,” she said. “It even prepares you for having arguments with your friends—you learn how to support your position with evidence and prove your point!”
Christian always wanted to be a history professor. At Scripps, she dual-majored in history and gender and women’s studies, worked at Denison’s circulation desk, and did an independent study exploring Scripps College history using the archives. These experiences provided her with a strong foundation for success in her PhD program in history at the University of California, Irvine. “In some ways, my journey is unusual in that I arrived at Scripps knowing what I wanted to major in and that I wanted to teach college students,” she said. “Because my classes were small, discussion-based, and included a lot of engagement with faculty, I was very well prepared for graduate school.”
After taking a gap year to serve as a docent at the Kumeyaay-Ipai Interpretive Center in San Diego County, learn Spanish, and complete an internship at the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian, Christian started her doctoral program at UCI. A few months after finishing her dissertation, she saw an opening for a position at Scripps, and the rest is—well, history.
Due to the pandemic, Christian’s return to Scripps has been virtual. And, despite the occasional technological challenges—like the memorable morning when she experienced a power outage right before her Zoom class started, construction roadblocks that prevented her from reaching a site with Wi-Fi access, and a hotspot failure—she’s created a strong classroom community. Students participated in the guest lecture she organized outside of class, and Christian plans to use funds from the Faculty-Student Dialogue Fund to host a virtual class party, an idea met with plenty of enthusiasm.
Although she’d like to eventually teach on campus, Christian believes that her familiarity with Claremont has helped her forge relationships with her students and colleagues in an online environment. “I think that if I’d come in without those connections, teaching remotely would have been a very different experience,” she said. “And I think it helps my students feel connected to me as well.”