Dr. Amy O’Keefe is an Assistant Professor of History at Meredith College. She specializes in Asian history and has a background that includes traveling to China to do research. She discussed what inspires her, why she loves teaching history and some insights from her college years with The Herald in this first article in a new series highlighting Meredith’s professors.
Dr. O’Keefe knew she wanted to teach before she knew what subject she wanted to teach. She started out her undergraduate career as a microbiology major at Brigham Young University in Utah. While there, she was a member of the Honors Program and found great opportunities for cultural enrichment and academic involvement. As an undergraduate student, she was able to study abroad twice in Nanjing, China, and it was there in China on her first study abroad experience that Dr. O’Keefe realized her true passion was historical research. Dr. O’Keefe says that during her second trip to Nanjing, which she took during a fifth year in undergrad on a scholarship, she had an experience that convinced her once and for all that she had chosen the right field. She recalls, “I remember walking into this room full of dusty, yellowing newspapers and being like, ‘Yes! I think this might be the right field for me.’”
As a professor, Dr. O’Keefe believes that it is important to learn about history because “it helps us to connect as humans,” and learning about history enables us “to practice the skills of sympathy and empathy.” Many people recognize that in order to avoid repeating history, one must learn it, but Dr. O’Keefe also emphasizes that serious learning of history enables people to think critically about it. “We are always fed stories about history or about how our society came to be what it is,” she says, “and we need to be able to assess those stories so we’re not buying into narratives that are harmful...and [recognize] when someone is using a historical narrative to convince you of something.”
When asked about why she chose to teach at Meredith College, Dr. O’Keefe explained that she appreciates being at an institution where students are highly valued. She highlighted the fact that Meredith listens to students about issues of discrimination on campus, and also loves that Meredith focuses on empowering people who are normally oppressed by patriarchy. Dr. O’Keefe also considers herself to be a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. She hopes to help create an interfaith LGBTQ+ club on campus in addition to Spectrum so that multiple spaces for LGBTQ+ students are present on campus. “I have a few close friends who are in the LGBTQ+ community and who are having to make extremely courageous choices about their lives...to try to make the world safer for other people,” she explains. “I find the stories of people who are having courageous conversations or are taking courageous steps themselves to do what’s right or healthy or to heal really inspirational.”
Besides being a professor and an active member of Meredith’s community, Dr. O’Keefe enjoys doing different crafts, but takes a special interest in knitting. She is also a mom and thoroughly enjoys spending time with her kids. Dr. O’Keefe also shared that if she had to choose a historical era to live in, she would have to pick Late Imperial China. She says that she finds the lives of upper class women in that era to be interesting, and she would enjoy experiencing the Literati tradition of that period in which some women were able to dedicate their lives to education and the arts.
By Rania Abushakra, Contributing Writer, and Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief