Robert Clines (2009)

Robert J. Clines received his MA in History from Miami University in 2009 with a thesis on the Jesuit order in sixteenth-century Rome (advisor, Wietse de Boer). He went on to earn a PhD from Syracuse University in 2014. Currently an Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University, he was awarded the 2016-17 Rome Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.  The Newsletter asked him about his work, education, and career path.Robert Clines

How would you describe your Rome Prize project?

The Rome Prize Fellowship is an eleven-month residency fellowship in Rome that will allow me to continue the research and writing of my current book project.  The project uses the experiences of Giovanni Battista Eliano [1530-1589], the only Jewish-born member of the Society of Jesus, as a means of exploring how religious conversion was a complex cultural problem that forced converts and non-converts to grapple with their own religious identities.  In the book, I argue that conversion was a prominent feature of daily life in the sixteenth-century Mediterranean and was central to understanding the tensions found in various Mediterranean societies that were both in conflict with one another but were also collaborators in all aspects of life: religion, politics, culture, commerce, etc.

Could you reflect on your trajectory from undergraduate student to professional historian?

When I began [my graduate work in history] at Miami, I saw it as an opportunity to explore on a deeper level a time period and a place (Renaissance Italy) that I enjoyed studying as an undergrad.  While that is [still] true, the process of becoming a professional historian has taught me that studying history is [also] an important part of understanding the nature of the human condition.  I've learned that good historians don't just study topics, places, or eras; they ask questions about what it meant to live in a specific time or place, and they ask about what factors led people to reflect on their world.  And the best historians ask questions about the past that are relevant to our understanding of the present.  My excitement in this discovery has also driven me to push my students to see historical inquiry as an exploration of why people thought and wrote in the ways they did, and how students can relate the past to their own lives by asking good questions.

In hindsight, what was the value of your Masters education at Miami?

My Masters education at Miami was fundamental in my development as a historian as well as a teacher.  First, faculty expertise and the dedication to offering stimulating coursework pushed me to recalibrate how I saw history.  One class that did this was History and Theories with Renée Baernstein.  That course illuminated to me the various ways in which the historical discipline has evolved.  This pushed me to reconsider what exactly it means to be a historian.  Second, Miami's Summer Language Institute in Urbino, Italy, was instrumental in how I developed as a researcher.  Spending two months immersed in Italy allowed me to master Italian, which is my primary research language.  This made getting into the archives far easier, both in terms of reading the manuscripts and in navigating Italy on my own.  Third, the teaching experience I gained at Miami was invaluable.  Being a Teaching Assistant was an unnerving experience at first given that I had never taught, but in the end it was the best part of being at Miami.  The teaching mentorship was great and the students I taught strove for excellence, which made teaching challenging and rewarding.