AHA Member Spotlight: Robin Kietlinski
Robin Kietlinski is an associate professor of history at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York. She lives in New York and has been a member since 2008.
Alma maters: BA, University of Chicago, 2001; MA, University of Pennsylvania, 2004; PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2008
Fields of interest: Japan, sports, Olympics, gender, environment
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? Much of my growing up took place overseas, as a diplomat’s daughter, and I knew I wanted to have a globally focused career. This came into clearer focus at the University of Chicago, where some outstanding language and history scholars piqued my interest in Japan. After graduation, I worked in Japan and acquired language proficiency before adding depth to my study of Japan and East Asia in my graduate studies at Penn. In the process of writing a paper on Japanese female marathon runners at Penn, it became evident that (a) research on Japanese sports history was highly androcentric, (b) research on women’s sports history was heavily Eurocentric, and (c) I had found my academic niche. My PhD dissertation (and later my book) explored the history of Japanese women’s participation in sports and the Olympics. I wanted to live and work in a major metropolitan area, and was thrilled when the position opened up at LaGuardia.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? I could not have anticipated how rewarding it would be to teach at a large urban community college. Like many PhD students, I had known little about community colleges and the crucial role they play in helping so many people achieve social mobility. My position at LaGuardia has enabled me to see, time and again, the ways in which a liberal arts education can dramatically change lives; witnessing my students’ success has been the most fulfilling aspect of my career. I have also been fortunate to have had opportunities to remain an active scholar. I typically have a heavy teaching load (4/4), but our 12-week semester schedule allows us to carve out substantial chunks of time to carry out research. LaGuardia is a teaching-focused institution under the umbrella of a major research university (CUNY), which has proven beneficial. My teaching has informed and improved my research, and I have taken advantage of the resources that CUNY offers its faculty across 25 campuses. I always weave New York City into my syllabi, and regularly take my students to world-class cultural institutions (some within walking distance of our campus in Queens, such as MoMA PS1 and the Noguchi Museum).
What projects are you currently working on? I am currently researching the history of Japan’s Olympic development projects and the impacts they have had on the natural environment. Next year, Japan will host its fourth Olympics, and its second since the event ostensibly became “greener” in the mid-1990s. I will be on sabbatical next academic year, examining Japan’s Olympic history through this lens.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? The experience of regularly teaching world history survey courses has broadened my perspectives and led me to focus more on the interconnections between societies. I usually spend my summers carrying out research in Tokyo, and the climate conditions I have felt there over the past 20 years led me to become more interested in urban development and environmental history.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? I found a great 1929 article in a popular women’s magazine called Fujin Sekai, containing an interview with Hitomi Kinue, Japan’s first female Olympic medalist. The interview gave insights into gender attitudes in Japan at that time. For example, the male interviewer asks, “When you become a wife and have a family in the future, will you continue to be active in sports?” Hitomi answers, “Yes, nothing will change.” Sadly, Hitomi passed away at 24, not long after the interview took place.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? A film that strongly resonates with my students is Takahata Isao’s 1988 animated film Grave of the Fireflies, about two young siblings in Japan during WWII. Yung Chang’s 2007 documentary, Up the Yangtze, is also effective in class, presenting a poignant view of China’s rapid development in the 21st century.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I always enjoy reading James Grossman’s thoughtful pieces in Perspectives on History. I have also gained a lot from regional AHA events in the New York City area, especially a workshop that introduced me to the AHA Tuning Project.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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