Behind the Lectern: Deborah Hertz – Making History Present

Professor Hertz’s office is lined with books on German, Jewish and modern European history. The only gap in her office is a space for her desk, which just so happens to be outlined with books as well. The UCSD Guardian sat down to speak with Professor Hertz to further explore her passionate and effective teaching style.

“The people who are academics usually love the big themes. What is capitalism? What is colonialism?” Hertz told the Guardian. “You go to an academic conference, often that’s what you hear, but that’s not how most students and most people who are not professional academics approach history.”

Hertz believes that focusing on the macrohistory is not necessarily the best way to teach students. Many history courses are like “a thin gruel of coverage,” flatly moving from one event to the next.

“I find it easier to absorb history usually through novels, biographies [and] movies,” Hertz said. “I think that when you read an academic book, that is an overview book, like a textbook, you immediately become bored because your ignorance is so great that you can’t read for detail. You just feel overwhelmed.”

Hertz takes a different approach than your regular history professor, focusing on the microhistory instead and giving voices to important figures of the past. She argues that students don’t always retain as much information when given an overview of main events, and that this approach lacks personalization of history.

“It doesn’t have people in it, it doesn’t have the dark side, the inner story,” Hertz said.

Professor Hertz is currently working on a book about radical Jewish women who challenged the status quo during their respective time periods.

“It’s the book I was really, really meant to write. The other books were kind of practice for this one,” Hertz told the Guardian.

The book begins in the late 19th century with the birth of the firebrand women who worked to instigate change by radical action.  

“I always try to have specific individuals, you can tell from my lectures. I’m a big believer in biography and incorporating it into history,” Hertz said.

Professor Hertz’s ability to personalize history combined with her passion for teaching creates a learning environment in which students can engage with, indulge in and most importantly, enjoy history. [icon name=”stop” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]