The University annually recognizes faculty for exceptional teaching and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students through the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards, believed to be the nation's oldest prize for undergraduate teaching. Based on letters of nomination from students, the award is among the most treasured by faculty. This year, Johanna Ransmeier, Associate Professor of History and the College, has received one of the five Quantrell awards.

Professor Ransmeier teaches the types of courses she would like to take herself. "Even when I am leading a lecture—and theoretically, standing at the front of the classroom—I am still a student of history first," she said. "I want to engage with historical materials with curiosity, humility and respect for the experiences of the people of the past."

Ransmeier's research focuses on modern China, especially the areas of law, crime, family life and comparative unfreedoms. She shares with her students the subjects of her ongoing scholarship, "because I want to share the ideas that are animating the material for me—the problems that I am trying to work out."

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In the classroom, Professor Johanna Ransmeier plays the role of tour guide, detective, interpreter, sometimes sparring partner or debate coach. “It’s a cliché to say this, but teaching is an integral part of scholarship,” she said. (Photo by Jason Smith)

Before graduate school, Ransmeier worked in human rights and as an interpreter. She was also involved in the contemporary art community in Shanghai as a practicing artist and printmaker; those experiences shaped her commitment to the freedom of expression, and to political and government accountability—ideas that continue to inform her teaching, research and writing.

"It’s a cliché to say this, but teaching is an integral part of scholarship," said Ransmeier, noting that she plays the role of tour guide, detective, interpreter, sometimes sparring partner or debate coach. "The classroom offers opportunities to think together, to debate and—perhaps above all—to listen to each other and to the sources. As an instructor, it’s important that I foster a safe environment for students to experiment and interact in this way."

She added that history has always been politicized and manipulated, which underscores the importance of careful examination and interpretation of the evidence—especially, she said, as more and more people attempt to weaponize history.

"This puts an enormous amount of pressure on our task as teachers, makes the history classroom a potentially contentious space, and creates new challenges and obstacles to our ability to do effective research and guide students in their research," Ransmeier said. "This is an enormous responsibility."

For the full list of 2022 teaching awardees, see the original UChicago News story here. The Department extends its congratulations to Professor Ransmeier on this prestigious honor!