Ben Zimmer '07
Position: Founder of Connecticut Public Policy Think-Tank
Field: Politics & Policy
Thesis Title:“ Empire of Omission: The Failure of American Middle East Policy, 1970-1973”
As an undergrad history concentrator my coursework focused on 19th and 20th century U.S. foreign relations. I wrote a senior thesis on American foreign policy in the Middle East during the Nixon Administration, for which I conducted original research at the National Archives through a grant from the Charles Warren Center. I also worked for three years as a research assistant to my thesis adviser, the late Ernest May (including helping him with research for the September 11 Commission Report). Professor May’s work is an exemplar of non-ideological data-driven reasoning, and I continue to think frequently of the lessons he taught me about research, writing, analysis, and decision-making. In addition to my academic work in the History Department I collaborated with a few fellow concentrators to revive Tempus, the undergraduate history journal, after a period of dormancy.
Although my career since college has not involved either the formal study of history or the practice of U.S. foreign relations, I cherish my time as an undergrad in the department. The research and writing skills I developed as a history concentrator have proved extremely valuable during each of my professional experiences since college – management consulting, law school, and now helping to start-up and run a think-tank on Connecticut public policy. I also appreciate the history concentration’s emphasis on historiography and teaching students to identify and critique existing historical arguments in addition to making their own. Like research and writing, this is a skill that translates to a wide range of professional activities beyond being a historian.
Finally, one of the things I loved about being a history concentrator is that the History Department really welcomed concentrators as equals into the department community. History concentrators had real opportunities to get to know the faculty outside of courses, and I personally enjoyed getting to know a number of history graduate students, as well. I am still in touch with one graduate student (now himself a professor at Berkeley) who was a TF for several of my courses. I think the undergraduate academic experience of my peers who pursued interdisciplinary concentrations (like social studies or hist. & lit) suffered due to the absence of a comparable department community. And I found departments with larger numbers of concentrators, like economics and government, struggled to match the history department’s success in integrating undergraduates into the overall fabric of the department (though perhaps this has changed since I graduated).
In conclusion, the history concentration rocks.