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Harvard History Professor Makes History

Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s appointment as the first African-American chair of the Department of History at Harvard University is significant, but not for the reasons most would expect.

Harvard has previously had Black heads of departments, Higginbotham noted, and her new role is not “the most important administrative job” as the university now has four African-American women leading colleges at the Ivy League school.

Instead, Higginbotham, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African-American Studies, believes the significance of her appointment comes in honoring the legacies of those who have paved the way for African-Americans’ contributions to the field of history.

“I feel absolutely indebted to those who have created the situation by which we can teach African-American history in our schools, and we can teach in these universities on the faculty and that we can produce Ph.D.’s with this specific emphasis,” Higginbotham said of her chair appointment. “It’s really quite an honor.”

“I am chair of the department from which W.E.B. Du Bois received his Ph.D. in 1895,” Higginbotham continued, “and I am chair of the department that Carter G. Woodson received his Ph.D. – the second [African-American] in history – in 1912.”

Dr. Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard praised Higginbotham’s appointment.

“My dear colleague and sister is a historic pioneer in the American Academy who thrives with brilliance and grace,” West told Diverse.

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