I remember walking into Professor McCormick’s office hours in the fall of my sophomore year, more than a bit distressed, to tell him that I could not decide between majoring in History or Human Evolutionary Biology. To most people, that probably sounded completely bizarre; those subjects aren’t even remotely related, how could I be equally passionate about both? But I was walking into the office of the person who I knew would understand my dilemma better than anyone else. And thanks to that conversation, I never really had to choose.
I first met Prof. McCormick my freshman fall when I took his survey course on Medieval Europe. It is to date one of the most fascinating courses I’ve ever taken. You may think history is a static subject, but not when it’s taught by McCormick and his Teaching Fellows. They brought in all the newest technology that was revolutionizing how we thought about climate, trade routes, plagues, agriculture; everything that impacted our understanding of history was infinitely more complex and diverse than we could give it credit for. The major takeaway—at least, for someone as human evolution focused as I was quickly becoming— was that we have to remember that for as infinitely complex as we consider our own lives to be, we must also realize that history is equally so. We search for trends and patterns, while acknowledging the individuals whose lives we can never truly comprehend. And it was this intersection of people and history by which I became immediately fascinated.
I decided to major in Human Evolutionary Biology, and to additionally join the SoHP team. The Initiative allowed me to use my background in human evolution to approach history; specifically in relation to studying pathogens and their impact on human migration patterns, genetics, and societal development. Imagine the feeling: an undeclared sophomore who knows she has a passion at this intersection of biology and history but is completely unsure how or if she can even go about it, suddenly having access to the cutting edge resources and information of world-class scholars who are redefining the field as I write. And the most amazing part is, no one once questioned my right to be there (except me!), even though I was comparably completely inexperienced. Everyone in the initiative is so passionate, they are excited as long as you are excited.
While I’ve done work for DARMC on cataloguing plague outbreaks in the late-Roman, early Medieval eras, I’ve also had the pleasure of attending conferences and listening to the incredible minds at work on this project. The interdisciplinary nature of this field is what makes it so fascinating, and its willingness to incorporate undergraduates in the process has been the most fulfilling aspect of my academic career at Harvard. Without SoHP, I may never have been able to fully realize my academic passion; thanks to SoHP, I now have the resources and support to pursue it.