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History Became Professor's Calling

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
December 2, 2009

Eliga Gould, associate professor of history. Perry smith, Photo Services

Note: This is one in a series of profiles of 2009 Faculty Excellence Award recipients.

If not for a joke about organic chemistry, historian Eliga Gould might never have found his true calling.

When he entered Princeton in 1979, his father was hoping he’d go into the business established by his great-grandfather. But Gould realized engineering was not for him after just two weeks when, during class one day, the professor made a joke—and that changed his path.

“He said something about carbon rings and the whole class broke out laughing and I thought, ‘That’s not funny,’” Gould says. “So I said to my friend ‘I’m out of here’ and went down to the registrar’s office and changed my major to history.”

Yet, even as an undergraduate, Gould didn’t know he would end up teaching. At the time, he thought the major would lead him to a career in law. But a class on the British initiative aimed at turning the killing of a slave into an act of murder stayed with him long after the semester ended.

“It really cast in very stark terms the difference between treating an individual as property and as a person,” Gould says. “That was the beginning of my interest in Atlantic history.”

And the rest is...well...

Gould’s colleagues speak of his worldwide reputation as a leading scholar on the British empire in the age of the American Revolution and, more generally, in the cutting-edge area of Atlantic history.

“He gets top evaluations from freshmen in general education courses as well as from doctoral students working closely with him on their dissertations,” says Bill Harris, professor of history. “Few historians ever publish articles in the American Historical Review, the top journal in our field in the United States, and Eliga has already done so twice.”

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