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Continual Learning

01/05/2011

When he was an undergraduate, MCLA history professor Dr. Ely Janis spent his junior year studying in England, which allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe and see for himself all the places he'd only read about before. The experience, combined with a series of dynamic and passionate history professors who served as his mentors and shared their enthusiasm for the field, inspired him to pursue history as a career. Now, he aims to share that same kind of enthusiasm and passion for history with his own students.

At MCLA, he has taught courses as varied as "American Immigration and Ethnicity," "U.S. Foreign Policy," "World War II" and the "History of American Radicalism." His specialty lies in American immigration and ethnic history, with a focus on the Irish in America.

"My dissertation is a study of the Irish National Land League, an Irish-American organization with branches in the United States and Ireland, which fought for reform of the economic and political systems in both countries," Janis said. "I argue that transatlantic connections between Ireland and the U.S. were critical in the shaping of 19th century Irish-American ethnic identity."

He aims to continue to develop new courses that not only interest and engage his students, but are relevant to understanding present day concerns. Janis also is very interested in local and public history.

"This spring I am running a Teaching American History program, 'Peoples and Communities of Berkshire County,' for grade 3-12 Berkshire County teachers," said Janis. "We want to help teachers bring local history into their classrooms and to help connect local history with larger national topics and themes. We hope this will give these teachers a rich content in history, experience with primary sources, and empower them to share this information with their classes as well as lead to a deeper appreciation among their students for their region's history."

Janis last taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. Although he is from the Northwest, he was eager to come to campus because, in addition to being a small, liberal arts college, MCLA centers on both teaching and its students.

He enjoys the MCLA campus community because of its friendly atmosphere and the sense of family among the faculty, staff and students. "It adds a real vitality to the campus," Janis said. 

"I have found MCLA students to be wonderful," he continued. "So many of them are enthusiastic and thoughtful individuals, and it has been a pleasure to have such wonderful students in my classes. It is the daily interactions with students, both inside and outside of the classroom, that have been most energizing for me professionally." 

He hopes that his students take from his classes the skills they need to critically examine their society, to present their ideas in clear and concise prose, and to be confident in themselves and in their abilities - all of which he says are important and valuable skills developed through a liberal arts education.

"In my own experience, learning has been a continual process, with some of my most rewarding moments coming not from finding answers but in forming new questions.  I hope my students also continue to form new questions and pursue their own answers well after their college years have ended," Janis said.