Over the course of the school year, we will get to know some of the students and staff at Lake Forest College. Meet Anna Trumbore Jones, associate professor of history and chair of the Department of History.
Q. How long have you been at Lake Forest College? How did you end up there?
A. August marked ten years since I arrived at Lake Forest, which is hard for me to believe. It has gone by so quickly! Ten years ago I was living in New York City, finishing my dissertation at Columbia and applying for jobs. I applied for jobs all over the country, but I immediately took special note of the Lake Forest position, because I grew up in the Chicago area and my family is still here. In addition, it was just the sort of school at which I was hoping to teach. I was excited to get an interview and thrilled when I got the call with the job offer. I walked around New York in a bit of a haze for a few days afterward. I figured I should be careful not to get hit by a bus or something…that maybe I had used up all my good luck, getting just the sort of job I wanted, and so near my family!
Q. What is your academic area of focus and what makes it interesting?
A. I teach pre-modern European history, from the Romans through the Reformation, but my specialty is the Middle Ages, an era that stretches from roughly 500-1500 CE. Why do I love teaching the Middle Ages? Part of teaching history is telling stories — telling my students what we know about the past. And I love recounting the stories from the Middle Ages: the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the Crusades, the rise of the universities, the struggle between kings and popes…the list could go on indefinitely. The second part of teaching history is teaching students how we know what we know about the past — how we reason from the surviving evidence to make arguments about what happened and why—and then asking them to do that kind of work themselves. The Middle Ages has a good amount of evidence — more than, say, ancient Rome — but not so many sources that we are overwhelmed. There are still mysteries to solve, still work to be done to fill in the blanks. It’s a lovely balance.
Q. What do you like best about working at Lake Forest College?
A. That’s easy: my students and my colleagues. For ten years I’ve been consistently pleased by the intelligence, curiosity, and good humor of my students. As for my colleagues…I go to work every day with really smart people who love what they study and who are committed to teaching students well. It’s a pretty good gig!
Q. What is your favorite Lake Forest College experience or memory?
A. Every spring, at the start of the graduation ceremony, the faculty line up on either side of the aisle and the graduates process between us on their way to their seats. It’s called the gauntlet. We shake hands, give hugs, and congratulate the students as they go by. A few years ago, I had two students scheduled to graduate who were very special to me. The first was a young man who had been in one of my classes my first semester at the College. He had been a wonderful student but personal problems had interrupted his education. He left the College for a couple of years but returned to finish his degree. I was so proud of his persistence. The second student was a young woman who had had a number of health crises; her time at the College had been interrupted on several occasions. I assumed that neither of them would be at graduation — they had both finished their coursework in the fall — but when the gauntlet came, there they both were, with the biggest smiles on their faces. It was so moving, a real one-two punch on the tear ducts! It was such a great moment to see such wonderful students overcome adversity and succeed in finishing their degree.
Q. Where is your favorite place on Lake Forest College's campus?
This might sound corny, but it’s the classroom. Doesn’t matter which exact room, of course…rather, it’s the dynamic of interacting with students who are discussing great texts. There’s an electricity that comes in the best classes that is the very best part of my job. You can’t always predict when it will come — students might have a revelation about a tough text, or argue passionately with each other over a key issue. It’s a thrill every time.
Q. What advice would you give someone who is considering Lake Forest College to continue their education?
A. When I was applying to colleges, I don’t think I knew what a liberal arts college was! I did not go to one…both my educational institutions were large universities, and they were great. But now, after ten years at Lake Forest, I am totally sold on this model of undergraduate education. Students have unparalleled access to professors here. Students get the kind of world-class education that you can get at a large university, but in a small community where they can talk to their professors and even do research with them. Furthermore, the College is within easy striking distance of one of the country’s greatest cities (I should know — I live there, and I commute to Lake Forest). The resources of Chicago enrich our students’ education, give them opportunities for internships and jobs, and give them access to a truly great center of culture. So the advice I would give is: explore the liberal arts college model!
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