To call NIU History Professor Heide Fehrenbach inquisitive by nature might be something of an understatement.
“When you teach things, you have to understand them deeply,” she said. “Part of it is intellectual curiosity … about why things are the way they are.”
Her motivation to learn, and also share her knowledge with students, has served Fehrenbach well over the years as she is an internationally recognized historian of 20th century Europe and U.S.-German relations with a voluminous track record of authoring books and essays on topics such as race, children of war and humanitarianism, and has been invited to speak at top universities in the U.S., Europe and Canada. A former Guggenheim fellow, she has also received prestigious awards from the National Endowment from the Humanities, the ACLS and the American Academy in Berlin.
On campus, Fehrenbach draws on her research to engage students ranging from undergraduate history majors to those in the university’s honors and Master’s programs through a total of 17 different courses she’s offered during her time at NIU.
Fehrenbach’s achievements recently earned her recognition as a Board of Trustees Professor, an honor she has now received twice since arriving at NIU in 2001.
“As a teacher, mentor and scholar, Professor Fehrenbach is equally impressive,” said Lael Weinberger, a former student currently completing a law degree and doctorate in history at the University of Chicago.
In recent years, Fehrenbach’s research focus shifted to hone in on the use of photography for the purposes of humanitarian advocacy and aid during times of genocide, famine and other international crises. She co-edited a book on humanitarian photography last year and is currently working on another book centered on the use of children as a focal point for such photos throughout the last century.
It’s that type of activity which often turns into the teachable material she brings into the classroom. There, she aims to create an “intellectual synergy” in which students learn from her and, in turn, she learns from them.
Seeing students find their spark and take the lead on chasing their own research interests is a part of the work Fehrenbach relishes because of how “it can really change their trajectory” for the future.
“I would not be the person and scholar I am today without Dr. Fehrenbach’s commitment to my success, energy and passion for historical inquiry,” noted former student Natalie Rose Cincotta, who is pursuing her doctorate in history at the University of Texas.