June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Faculty Award: Harry Harootunian, Max Palevsky Prof. in H

    Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching: Harry Harootunian, Max Palevsky Professor in History Harry Harootunian, the Max Palevsky Professor in History, said he had two instant reactions -- "surprise and gratitude" -- to the news that he had received a Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

    "I've taught for more than 20 years, and I've been at Chicago continuously since 1973, and it's an honor to have my work recognized," he said.

    "Besides," he said, "teaching graduate students here is fun.

    "I've taught a wide range of advanced classes -- seminars -- during my time here. I have taught everything in the area of Japanese history as well as a few subjects outside of Japan, and I've team-taught courses in intellectual history with other faculty members."

    Harootunian finds that teaching seminars gives him a chance to work with students at a key point in their academic careers.

    "Seminars are important, because both student and teacher are at their best. That's what seminars are about -- conceptualizing and doing original research. And some of a student's best work is often done in these classes at this point in her or his life. That's great to see happen."

    But for Harootunian, teaching seminars has one limitation.

    "The relationship is different between student and teacher in a seminar," he explained. "No matter how interesting the interchange, the teacher is still directing the student's work. It's still pretty hierarchical, although I try to make it as little so as possible."

    Harootunian is able to escape this traditional teacher-student relationship in his tutorials.

    "I have been involved in lots of tutorials, or reading courses, with subjects ranging from the incredibly specific to incredibly general material. I've been doing it ever since I got here. And some of my most exciting times have been in the tutorials. There is a give-and-take there between me and the students that I can't find anywhere else," he said.

    The loose structure he maintains with his students contributes to the excitement of teaching these classes, he said.

    "We often meet weekly, in situations that range from one-to-one sessions to small discussion groups. That's the way to do it -- to read in small groups and to engage the work. It's truly exciting. Not only are students able to explore the cutting edge in terms of ideas and methods -- which they may not often do, for good reasons, in regular seminars -- but they are able to experiment with concepts and explore areas that may not be central to their research but can often end up having an impact on their research."

    Harootunian, who received his B.A. in 1951 from Wayne State University and his M.A. in 1953 and his Ph.D. in 1957 from the University of Michigan, taught at Rochester, California and Wisconsin before joining the Chicago faculty. He said he finds teaching Chicago tutorials an especially energizing experience.

    "I've got to admit, I've really learned a lot in these situations," he said. "In a tutorial, it is precisely the sense that we are all working together that makes the biggest difference. Every member has an equal stake. Unlike seminars, the format is not hierarchical, and I get my own ideas challenged. That is truly important to me and my work."

    But whether in seminars or tutorials, Harootunian finds his purpose in teaching graduate students at Chicago.

    "In all honesty, and unequivocally, my best experiences have come from graduate students. In teaching good students, you get as much out as you put in. It keeps you at the intellectual edge."

    -- Jeff Makos