Seeing Cultures through New Lenses
As an undergraduate, Dr. Heather DeHaan ’96 took a history class that shaped her education and led her on a journey into foreign lands.
2 min. read
November 6, 2020

History teaches important life lessons for those who will listen. And Heather DeHaan ’96 has very good ears. After taking retired professor Dr. James Payton’s Eastern Orthodox Tradition course, a new world opened up to DeHaan that she had never heard of before.

Through the Christian College Coalition, DeHaan worked in Russia sharing the Christian faith after graduating from Redeemer. “The people with whom we shared, taught us about modesty, resilience and ourselves. There’s nothing more educational than seeing yourself and your culture through someone else’s eyes and culture.” Her time serving prompted her to devote herself to studying Russia and its culture, spending six years in the former Soviet Union and four years in Russia.

“There’s nothing more educational than seeing yourself and your culture through someone else’s eyes and culture.”

After graduating from Redeemer, DeHaan earned an MA and PhD in history from the University of Toronto. She now works as associate professor of history at Binghamton University, teaching Russian, eastern European and Eurasian history. After studying Russia for so many years, DeHaan began to steer her interests towards the history and multi-ethnic diversity of Azerbaijan. As she studied the culture, she found it was told only from the Russian perspective. “The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union alike were multi-ethnic spaces with particularly significant Muslim and Jewish communities, along with other Christian communities. So, I sought another lens through which to look into the history of that region, even if this required spending time in another language, culture and space.”

Many of her students at Binghamton University come from New York City and surrounding areas that have experienced significant immigration from eastern Europe. She commonly has Uzbek, Tajik, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Polish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Bukharin Jewish, Bosnian, Russian and other students of east European heritage. “My classes help these students unpack who they are, which is framed by how we tell stories both about ourselves and about others, as well as the events themselves.”

DeHaan travelled to Azerbaijan in 2019 on a Fulbright Fellowship from the US Department of State. There, she hoped to hear first-hand about multi-ethnic neighbourhood life in the Soviet period. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cut her work short, but she gained valuable information that she hopes to include in a book.

Ultimately, DeHaan desires to continue the liberal arts tradition Redeemer instilled in her. “I want what I’m teaching to help my students to grow as complete persons, starting with this scholarly examination of eastern European peoples and identities and how they formed and how they have been understood and often misunderstood.”

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