Welcome to #FacultyFriday! Meet Hilary Dickerson, professor of history. Dr. Dickerson is a long-time West Coast resident, having completed four degrees in Washington State before moving south to teach here at PUC. Her interest in WWII-era history led her to a short-term research position in Japan, which has given her invaluable experience as a professor and a historian. But more on that later. Introducing: Dr. Dickerson!
Name: Hilary Dickerson
Title: Professor of History
Faculty since: Fall 2007
Classes Taught: U.S. History, Intro to Asia, History Methods II (Historiography), Civil War and Reconstruction, Recent America: 1945-Present, Seminar in Asia, Seminar in the U.S., History Methods IV (Senior Thesis), History of Culture: Cold War America, U.S. Diplomatic History, History Study Tour, and an Honors course: Race and the American Century
What do you enjoy most about being a professor?
I love interacting with students, particularly watching students transform and master skills (reading, original research, writing, presentations) they once thought close to impossible. My favorite part of teaching is the growth I see in my students’ scholarship and character from their freshman to senior years as they encounter the world.
What is your area of expertise and why did you choose that?
My specialty is U.S.-Japanese relations during World War II and the Occupation, particularly involving the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I chose it partially because I heard my grandfather’s stories about fighting in the Pacific during World War II, and I read a book on the atomic bomb as an undergraduate. I also chose it partially by accident; I came across a group of women, the Hiroshima Maidens, in something I was reading in early graduate school and shifted my interest from an environmental history of Hanford Nuclear Site to this group of women who, despite being bombed by the U.S., traveled here afterward for plastic surgery to fix their scars.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
Staying up-to-date on current research in the field of history and making history relevant for college students.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to teach kindergarten for a while, which is hysterical now because my classroom management skills for that age group are non-existent.
I understand you’ve spent significant time in Japan. Tell us about that.
I lived in Japan for seven months as a research fellow at International Christian University when I was ABD (All But Dissertation in my doctoral program) and have had the privilege of traveling in Japan several other times as well. While there, I conducted my own research three days a week, and usually traveled the other four, unless I needed to help out with a conference or proofread professors’ latest projects.
In Japan, I learned about the importance of traveling alone and pushing myself to try new things even when it felt uncomfortable. I frequently draw on my research from that era as I teach or work on new projects of my own; I learned how to negotiate difficult research topics—such as the death and destruction wrought by the atomic bomb—as a citizen of the country that built the bomb.
I was initially most surprised by Japan’s blend of cutting-edge modern life with tradition, but I should not have been. I was also surprised at how good my Spanish became in Japan; I’d studied in Argentina in college, and surrounded by a new language, I started thinking in Spanish instead of English. When I tried to speak in my limited and halting—and frankly awful—Japanese, Spanish words came out instead. It is funny now, but it wasn’t always then.
And finally, I learned what it feels like to be an outsider while I lived in Japan—to not speak the language, understand all parts of a culture, be able to express myself easily. I brought that with me to teaching, I hope. I think the experience gave me empathy for my students when they are working to learn something new and frustrated by how long it takes or who feel like they don’t yet belong.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I decided to teach high school when I started college, and then I taught about the atomic bomb and the students were clearly uninterested. About that time, a history professor at Walla Walla University named Bob Henderson suggested I should think about teaching college. It had never occurred to me that I could succeed in graduate school, let alone teach college students.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like to travel, read, run, spend time with my family, and ride horses.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I once spent a summer working grounds for a golf course and can (or at least could) drive a tractor, mow greens, mow fairways, and reprimand golfers throwing fits about their drives. I misunderstood my boss once and mowed an entire hill of decorative grass down; he’d been carefully growing the grass for a few seasons and had told me to “go find something to mow.” So, I did.
What’s your favorite thing about PUC?
I love being part of the community of students and faculty at PUC, particularly given the natural setting of the hill.
Name a class (history or otherwise!) you think all PUC students ought to take.
I think all students should take a class in a subject that pushes the boundaries of their own knowledge and perspectives, whatever that class might be. History Methods II (Historiography) is my favorite class to teach in many ways because it does just that.
Education: B.A. in English, B.A. in Spanish from Walla Walla University; M.A. in American Studies from Washington State University; Ph.D. in U.S. History from Washington State University
New publication (book chapter) in Fall 2018 as part of the Legacies of the Manhattan Project called, “The Atomic Bomb in Censored Print: Newspapers and the Meaning of Nuclear War.”
“‘Will Die for Cause of Imperial Edict:’ Paul Tatsuguchi’s Transnationalism in a Time of War.” Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast 2017 Annual Conference. June, 2017. Salem, Oregon.