Symposium to honor Jean Quataert

Former students will return to pay tribute to retiring history professor

History Professor Jean Quataert delivers a talk during a teach-in on "Trump's America" in April 2017. Quataert plans to retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
History Professor Jean Quataert delivers a talk during a teach-in on
History Professor Jean Quataert delivers a talk during a teach-in on "Trump's America" in April 2017. Quataert plans to retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

Jean Quataert’s decision to retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year has nothing to do with a lack of energy.

“I’m still enthusiastic about teaching,” said Quataert, a professor in the History Department since 1986. “I’m as alive and excited as I could be. My students are terrific: They are engaged and asking questions.

“But it’s time. It’s good to go out when you are doing well – with a bang. Maybe people will miss you!”

Before Quataert can be missed, however, several of her former students will return to campus for a retirement symposium to be held from 8:45 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 15 in the University Downtown Center (Room 220A/B). The former students, who now teach at institutions such as Oregon State University, the University of Memphis, Cleveland State University and William Paterson University, will take part in panels associated with Quataert’s fields of expertise, such as humanity and human rights.

The event will also include keynote lectures from Kathleen Canning, incoming dean of humanities at Rice University, and Lora Wildenthal, the current interim dean of humanities at Rice. Quataert and Wildenthal are now co-editing a volume of essays called the Routledge History of Human Rights.

Quataert came to Binghamton University with her husband Donald. While Donald Quataert became one of the leading international scholars in Ottoman economic, labor and social history before his death in 2011, Jean Quataert became a pioneer in women’s history, human rights and transnational rights. She has produced five academic monographs, four co-edited volumes, 36 articles and book chapters, and won the Berkshire Prize for best article in a field of history written by a woman.

Marilynn Desmond, a distinguished professor in the English Department, said Jean Quataert’s arrival had an immediate impact.

“When Jean Quataert came to Binghamton University as the director of women’s studies in 1986, she was one of the very few senior women on campus, and she rapidly became an important role model and mentor for a large number of junior women,” Desmond said. “Her infectious enthusiasm for women’s history and feminism across the disciplines was truly inspirational.”

Heather DeHaan, chair of the History Department who will deliver opening remarks at the symposium with Provost Donald Nieman, said Quataert’s work has transformed German, European and women’s history, “opening the former fields to transnational and multi-regional approaches while ensuring the latter’s enduring significance as a field of analysis.”

“Her work has likewise influenced the History Department at Binghamton University, indelibly shaping its approach to modern European, global, women’s and gender history while building a strong reputation for our department and institution,” she said. “Our graduate students’ success in gender, global and comparative historiographies is a testimony to her influence on this department and this institution.”

Leigh Ann Wheeler, a professor of history who led The Journal of Women’s History with Quataert, called her colleague “one-of-a-kind in so many ways.”

“Before we ever met, Jean persuaded me to apply for a position at Binghamton University — and to hang in there when I was tempted to withdraw from the search,” Wheeler said. “Since then, she has become an intellectually exciting colleague and collaborator, a wise and honest friend and mentor, and an essential and beloved family member. Jean has the sort of Tigger-like energy that makes you think she can never, will never retire. So don’t be fooled by any ‘retirement’ talk — she’s just shifting gears.”

Quataert said she suspected “something was brewing” when asked months ago if she would be available on Sept. 15. But History Department members remained tight-lipped.

“It was a secret and it irritated me because nobody would give me good information,” Quataert said with a laugh. “I didn’t know who was participating. I didn’t know the themes.”

Quataert said she was moved when she finally saw the symposium program.

“These are students I’ve trained over the years in different fields of history,” she said. “It’s quite exciting. I haven’t seen some of them in a few years.”

Quataert is also happy that two of the scholars taking part in the symposium are her husband’s former students and are now Ottoman historians in Turkey. She also noted the participation of faculty members such as DeHaan, Wheeler, Kent Schull, Elisa Camiscioli and Fa-ti Fan in history and Benita Roth in sociology and women’s studies.

“This symposium is not just a tribute to me or Donald,” she said. “It’s a tribute to the History Department and the collective endeavor. When students are trained, they are not just trained by one person. They are trained by lots of colleagues.”

The department is “intellectually flexible,” she said, with faculty members showing a commitment to teaching by leading introductory history courses.

“We are path-finding as a department in global history,” Quataert said. “We are probing what makes these global interconnections.”

The Quataerts always saw and appreciated Binghamton University’s commitment to research and teaching. The opportunity for the couple to work at a growing university near Donald Quataert’s family in Rochester was exciting, Jean Quataert said.

“We decided early on: ‘This is it. We are not going anywhere else,’” she recalled. “We had a few opportunities. But our careers and marriage were intertwined. That was the beauty of it. So we never separated. We never took a fellowship in which the other couldn’t come. This is a good place and a fine institution.”

While Quataert will retire after teaching her Modern World History class in the spring of 2018, she will remain active with The Journal of Women’s History as a Bartle professor until 2020. She said she will continue to write and attend academic conferences, but also plans to make more family visits. She is even planning a 2018 trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

“The seduction of being a university professor is that it’s always exciting, new and challenging with young people,” she said. “So you are ‘seduced’ into staying with it. And for good reason. I don’t know that there are many people who can say after 40-plus years that they’ve loved their work and never been bored.

“It’s important to make room for young people,” she added. “Next generations (of faculty) need to come in.”

The symposium program notes that the Quataerts “brought to Binghamton their commitment to social justice, international vision and scholarship that advanced the rights and agency of ordinary men and woman across the globe.”

While Jean Quataert acknowledged Binghamton University’s commitments to Ottoman studies and transnational history, she also offered a more modest legacy for the couple.

“We both have good reputations as careful mentors,” she said. “I’m still writing letters for my students!

“It’s been a wonderful time. I know I’ve made the right decision.”

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