To go along with our ongoing AHA Member Spotlight, we have introduced an AHA Council Spotlight series featuring short interviews with our elected Council officers. Like our membership, the AHA Council is composed of historians with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and stories. We hope this feature will let our membership get to know their elected officials in a different way.
Andrew Rotter is a professor of history at Colgate University. He is currently a councilor in the AHA’s Professional Division and has been an AHA member since 1979.
|AHA Councilor, Andrew Rotter|
Fields of interest: US foreign relations, recent US, history of the senses
When did you first develop an interest in history?
As a kid, I read potboiler novels, somewhat international and vaguely historical, and stuff by James Michener. I especially liked The Source. My high school history teachers were football coaches.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Yes. I had a chance to spend nine months in India in 1984–85, just after finishing a draft of my first book, a work of political economy. For me being in this new place before imagining it as a research topic made me think more anthropologically and personally about US foreign relations. My book Comrades at Odds, which explored US–India relations during the Nehru era, took culture—gender, race, religion, ideas about time and space, and so forth—seriously as a way of understanding relations between people and nations.
What projects are you working on currently?
I’m working on a study of two empires (Britain in India, the United States in the Philippines) and the five senses. I’m like an old man with pictures of my grandchildren: “Ask me about outhouses! Ask me about curry!”
What has been your favorite and least favorite aspect of serving on Council?
Favorite: great, smart, dedicated people with whom I serve. Least: Seeing New Orleans through the windows of a Council meeting room.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you would like to recommend to fellow AHA members?
Books—John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War; Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (scary future history); Frank Costigliola, Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War.
Movies—The War at Home (documentary about the anti-Vietnam War movement in my home town of Madison, WI); Grand Illusion; Eight Men Out. And, okay: Love, Actually.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I agree with Bill Cronon—the ability, the imperative, to tell stories. That’s why I teach and write.
Has your time on Council changed your view of the profession? If so, how?
I had the misunderstanding that the organization, having been wound up years ago, just went along. Instead, it’s constant work for the director, staff, and Council. There’s always a Rick Scott casually willing to denigrate what we do. His kind of claim needs answering.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
An inherently nerdy question, but all right: My daughter and I got scammed by a piety-spouting shoeshine man on the street in Chicago.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I like doing almost anything with my wife and daughters. I like plays and films. I’m a runner and a cross country skier, for which upstate New York is well suited.