Historian is the new Dean of Arts and Science
Susan Mumm believes the role of a university is to give people the opportunity to transform their lives. “It’s about opportunity and transformation,” says the new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, who’s a history professor by vocation. “A university gives people the chance to become more than they otherwise would have been able to become.”
Academia has had that effect on Mumm herself. She grew up on a Sakatchewan sheep farm never believing she’d attend university; it wasn’t something anyone in her family did. Her mind was changed when she went to the U of Saskatchewan bookstore with a friend who was taking a night class in economics.
“The bookstore was teeming with students, and listening to them talk, I thought, ‘They don’t sound any smarter than me. I can probably do this,’” Mumm recalls. “I decided right there that university probably was for people like me.”
She fell into history, “because the queues [to sign up] for psychology courses” were too long, she says, laughing. And it ended up being a crucial turning point: in her first lecture, on the condition of women in 19th-century Britain, she fell in love with studying history.
“It’s a fantastic discipline. It combines being a detective with being an analyst. You spend a lot of time searching for clues and little snippets of the past, what people did, and how they thought, and then you try to find patterns in the evidence so you have a story to tell. And history has a good healthy dollop of gossip in it, too. There’s this basic human story running through it all, like a thread of gold, and it remains interesting forever,” says Mumm, whose research focus is Victorian Britain and women’s groups of the period.
Since that first university class, Mumm has been crisscrossing the globe, pursuing her doctorate at the U of Sussex in England, then taking teaching positions at York U and The Open University, U.K. She then landed at Mount Saint Vincent U in Nova Scotia as Dean of Arts and Science and most recently as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey U in New Zealand.
Her role here at Queen’s is an exciting next step in her academic evolution. Asked “Why Queen’s?”, she responds candidly. “It’s just such a bloody good university!”
Queen’s also seems to have done the impossible trick of combining the traditional values of a university education and a contemporary focus, she adds. “It isn’t archaic. It’s future-focused, but it hasn’t abandoned the traditional values.”