2016 Silver Circle winner John Abbott

John Abbott

“When I take on topics a little out of my comfort zone, I end up learning so much more,” says John Abbott. Photo: Roberta-Dupuis-Devlin

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

John Abbott’s research focuses on German history in the 19th and 20th centuries, but his teaching fields range from ancient Mesopotamia to the Cold War.

“My premise is that teaching is always a great learning opportunity,” he said.

“When I take on topics a little out of my comfort zone, I end up learning so much more.”

To cover such a wide historical timeline he combines ongoing self-critique and content review.

“Even when covering familiar material, I try to keep things fresh by reexamining my own assumptions, seeking new angles and approaches,” said Abbott, a first-time Silver Circle winner.

“My sense of what’s important, of what experiences or explanations should be highlighted in a particular course, changes over time. There’s nothing fixed or canned about history, we keep asking new questions of the past, and that’s what keeps things interesting.”

History matters because it helps us see “what it means to be human, and also suggests how we might become better humans,” he explained.

He argues history “has a civic dimension, it informs our democratic practice, and I try to bring this sense of civic engagement to my teaching.”

Like many of his students, Abbott’s educational path wasn’t traditional.

As an undergraduate, he took an extended hiatus that included 11 years working in Detroit-area auto plants. He resumed his studies at UIC, where he received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in history.

He is thankful for the Silver Circle recognition from his students and for the opportunity to teach them in his current role the past six years.

“Teaching at UIC feels like the greatest privilege to me,” he says. “The diversity of our student body, the fact that our students are so grounded, the ways in which students rise to new challenges every semester – all this makes UIC one of the great urban campuses.”

“Every week, every day, I feel grateful to be here.”

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