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Behind the Book: Heaven’s Wrath

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What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

I did most of my research for Heaven’s Wrath at archives in the Netherlands, living there at one point for ten months and visiting on other occasions for as little as ten days. In all that travel, I had lots of fun and scary adventures: getting lost, getting robbed, etc. But my favorite moment came on a return flight to the United States when my aircraft had engine trouble over the Atlantic Ocean and had to land in the Azores. I got to spend two days exploring a place I probably never would have visited, and I got to do it on the airline’s dime!

Since I happen to teach Atlantic history, and since the Azores come up in my classes now and then, I also got a great story to share with my students.

What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book?

I wish I had begun with a better sense of how much research is needed and how much can and cannot be included in a book without overdoing it. I took more time getting to the writing than I needed to take because, inexperienced as I was, I didn’t know when to stop traveling, when to stop searching for and collecting new sources, and when to say “enough.” As a result, I ended up with a lot of unused materials, which will be great for future projects. But again, I probably could have published Heaven’s Wrath in 2017 or 2018.

How do you wish you could change the field of history?

If I woke up tomorrow and discovered that I was King of Historians, I would decree the teaching of teaching in graduate school. In my Ph.D. program, as much as I learned and as much as I appreciated the efforts of advisors and others, the only teaching instruction I got was hands-on Teaching Assistant-type stuff. I wasn’t explictly taught how to write a strong syllabus, prepare and deliver a good lecture, craft effective assignments, and so on. In part because of that, I was a pretty lousy teacher when I first started, and the learning curve to becoming a better teacher has been steep. There will, of course, always be a learning curve for new activities, and not everyone who gets a Ph.D. will become a teacher. But many do, and the current system does far too little to prepare them for that career.

Danny Noorlander is an associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Oneonta. He teaches colonial American history, the Atlantic world, and European expansion. Follow him on Twitter @DLNoorlander and @timeline_world.

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