History-Government Major Michelle Kahn ’12 wins Beinecke Award

Michelle Kahn ’12 has won a Beinecke Scholarship for her scholarly promise in the area of history. Beinecke scholars receive $4,000 immediately prior to entering graduate school and an additional $30,000 while attending graduate school.

The range of Kahn’s experiences at CMC has been striking. During her college tenure, she’s interned for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, was editor-in-chief of the Claremont Port Side, and is currently studying abroad at the Institute for the International Education of Students in Vienna, Austria. Those are just a few among her wide array of scholarly and extracurricular roles.

John J. Pitney, who serves as the adviser for the Beinecke, noted her “wonderfully detailed and beautifully written essays, reflecting scholarly depth and political savvy.”
And Jonathan Petropoulos, the John V. Croul Professor of European History, who taught her in a course “Researching the Holocaust,” calls Kahn “arguably the best student I have taught in over twenty years at CMC and Harvard University.”

“She is a deep thinker who grapples with big issues in a thoughtful, philosophical way,” Petropoulos said.

As she found her true passion in the study of history, the dual history-government major says she was greatly moved by her time at the Holocaust Museum.

“Surrounded by historians at all levels of academic training, I learned much about what it takes to succeed as a scholar particularly about the ability to deal with frustration and delayed gratification. My co-workers became mentors, and I found myself eager not only to jump into their research projects, but also to begin my own.”

And as she goes on to earn a PhD in Modern European History from a university she’s yet to name (she’s thus far narrowed her graduate schools of choice down to include Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia), her focus will be on post-unification Germany, specifically the two World Wars, the interwar period, and the Holocaust.

Right now as she teaches English at a high school in Austria, and also is quickly learning to speak German, her enthusiasm for historical exploration shines through: “I love sitting in my own little world in a quiet room filled with twenty other people and just immersing myself in research. Whenever I examine primary sources, I always feel like a detective. I always find something new and useful, and I always get way too excited.”

About the future she mentions younger generations of learners, saying “Discussing a greatest hope for the future is difficult, because I am always so focused on the past. On a very small level, I’d like to see a shift in the way history is taught in high school. I’d like to see more “story-telling” and primary sources (the reasons I fell in love with history) and fewer bland textbooks and “teach-to-the-AP-test” methods (the reasons that most students complain about history as boring and useless).”

This summer Kahn will be living in Frankfurt, Germany, and working as an intern at the Internationale Gesellschaft fur Menschenrechte (International Society for Human Rights).

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established in 1971. It grants scholarships to students of exceptional promise, who are pursuing graduate work in the arts, humanities and social sciences.