Emma Kuby

Emma Kuby

Enthusiastic seems to be the go-to word when it comes to describing NIU Department of History professor Emma Kuby.

Students who’ve taken her courses with little prior interest in the topics have gone on to enroll in as many of her classes as possible. To her, that’s the best compliment a professor can receive.

An assistant professor since 2012 at NIU, Kuby’s teaching interests include courses on modern European and French history, intellectual history and the history of French overseas empire, as well as thematic classes related to violence, justice, memory and religious minorities in modern Europe.

“Prof. Kuby has a thoughtful and dynamic approach to teaching,” said Valerie Garver, an associate professor and chair of the Department of History.

“Those of us in the history department who have observed her teach can see that she makes careful plans for classes, but she’s also nimble, able to change course on the spot when she realizes it will help her engage students more deeply,” she said. “As a result, she finds ways to connect with all students and kindle their passion for learning.”

Fluent in French, Kuby pursued French history because of its importance in culture. She didn’t aspire to be a professor at first, but was encouraged by her professors as an undergraduate at Brown University, where she double-majored in History and Gender Studies. She earned her Ph.D. in European History from Cornell University in 2011.  

She said she’s fortunate to be able to do what she does for a living.

“I think the energy level in my classroom is pretty high,” said Kuby, who teaches with novels, monographs and articles instead of textbooks and would rather praise her fellow professors in the history department than talk about her own accomplishments.

“I try to be really thoughtful and deliberate about every element of class. I try to make everything matter. I try to give students lots of room in my classroom, to make it a space for their voices and give them exciting things to engage with and talk about with one another—and to make it matter to them.”

According to her coworkers and students, many of whom wrote emails and submitted letters of nomination for the 2018 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award Kuby received from NIU, her passion for the topics she researches and teaches is contagious.

Upon learning of the award, Kuby said, “I staggered around the hall with the letter. I was honored and flattered. It was so meaningful to me that it came from student nominations and the input from students themselves.”

Among the many attributes pointed out as part of her nomination: “She instills a love for thinking in her students.” “I always looked forward to stepping inside one of her classes, because I knew that I would be as entertained as I would be enlightened.”

“To be honest, I only took the class because it fit in my schedule, and I was not looking forward to it. I’m glad that I was wrong. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it,” wrote one of her students, Justin Barlett. “With your enthusiasm and reading assignments you made history come alive.”

Others told of her genuineness and the personal attention she provides, with many reaching out to her for advice, recommendations and feedback on projects.

Former student Ashley Belec, inspired by Kuby to become a history teacher, wrote about Kuby’s attentive response after the death of her father a few weeks into the semester. Kuby pulled Belec aside on many occasions just to check on her.

“Thank you for showing me it is not just about the love of history, but the love of teaching others and showing your students genuine concern for their success,” she wrote. “I love being a teacher and inspiring young minds to achieve their great potential. Thank you for helping me realize mine.”

With her research centering on the effects of World War II’s violence on the intellectual history of postwar France and Western Europe, Kuby’s first book, “Political Survivors: The Resistance, the Cold War, and the Fight Against Concentration Camps After 1945,” is expected to be published in March 2019 by Cornell University Press.

The topic originally was a chapter in her dissertation. She’s been interested in it ever since, with her research and writing of the book beginning when she came to NIU.

In 2015, Kuby was awarded a fellowship at Princeton University’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies and became one of five faculty Fellows-in-residence from around the world to work on projects related to the Davis Center’s theme at the time—“In the Aftermath of Catastrophe.”

Coupled with an NIU Research and Artistry Completion Fellowship, this award allowed her to travel to archives in France and other European countries to finish the research for the book.

“I think it’s a really moving story,” she said. “It’s a narrative story about individuals. It has some compelling, complicated people at the heart of it.”


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