Although my interest in history, and teaching history, is long-standing and continuous, my becoming an historian hardly describes a textbook case. A dual interest in literature and history was resolved only because double majors weren’t part of my undergraduate culture–bad enough that I was going to do a history major and education minor. I fully expected to apply four years of High School Latin to the study of ancient history, until I took my first college history course, taught by a French historian who started life as a physicist. I avoided French history like the plague, until the second term of graduate school, when I (very) belatedly realized that modern France would be my specialization (I continued to avoid the French Revolution for some time thereafter). Three years later, I acted on a vague sense of curiousity about the history of medicine when I decided to celebrate my successful Master’s oral exam by attending a lecture in the med school.
There’s a certain logic to the vagaries of my journey, however; each development contributed to my appreciation of historical knowledge. As a history major, I began to acquire the habits of mind demanded by disciplined inquiry into the past. Studying the history of France–”steadfast and changing,” as one scholar has put it–sharply poses the challenge of making meaningful generalizations about the past while simultaneously taking account of the specific and the exceptional. Finally, for me, the history of medicine demonstrates in a particularly fascinating way the integrative power of historical explanations of human experience.