Centre News

20 Questions with Assistant Professor of History John Harney


September 5, 2013        
John Harney

1. Position at Centre?
Assistant Professor of Asian History

2. Where did you grow up (and describe the place in one phrase or sentence)?
I grew up in a bunch of places, but I was born and eventually went to university in Ireland. The scenery is beautiful, people are friendly above all else, and they like to have fun. Most of all, Irish people like to share drinks and tell stories. This all sounds so stereotypical, but in person it's something special and something I miss.

3. What are your hobbies?
I have recently gotten back into exercising, though this is less a hobby than penance. I do like cycling. I try to read fiction as often as I can (particularly sci-fi), and I love watching action films.

4. What is your dream vacation?
There was a time when my dream vacation was spending time in the Burren in southwest Ireland, looking into the middle distance and experiencing the beauty of nature. Now there's nothing specific, but any chance to go home and see my family works—or spending time with my wife, sunshine and cold drinks.

5. Favorite artist and/or work of art?
I like Rothko an awful lot. "Dark Brown Grey Orange" is my favorite. I'd also recommend Kozyndan, an Anglo-Japanese artistic duo that do some pretty cool stuff playing on Japanese cultural themes.

6. Favorite novel or poem?
I was very much into poetry as a young man and W.B. Yeats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Tony Harrison are tough to beat. My favorite novel, though, would be A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I'm sorry, I'm cheating terribly. But also Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I'll stop now.

7. Favorite sport (to watch or play)?
Favorite to watch and try to play is definitely soccer. I grew up with it in my family; I genuinely feel an extremely personal connection to the sport. I also like watching American football and baseball.

8. Favorite TV show?
I like a lot of TV, but there's only one winner: Columbo. Don't mess with Columbo. He always gets the bad guy.

9. Favorite album?
You cut me with these questions, you really do… I would have to go with Ease Down the Road by Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Will Oldham). I think it's the essential Will Oldham album, frankly. The highest level of acoustic songwriting around with plenty of weirdness thrown in. I'll cheat (AGAIN) and throw in Street Legal by Bob Dylan, which makes me seem either slightly less or slightly more pretentious.

10. Favorite holiday?
Christmas, no contest. I spend time with family, and in Ireland I'll typically double my body weight through the consumption of chocolate and Irish breakfast food.

11. Favorite food?
I like many types of food, much to my detriment, but good dim sum is right there at the very top.

12. Most prized possession?
This is going to sound extremely sappy, but my wedding ring. I've yet to get used to having it on my finger, and I'm glad about that.

13. Three people, living or deceased, whom you'd invite to the same dinner party?
John Giles, Margaret Atwood and Terry Gilliam. Giles is a footballing legend in Ireland; he has a wonderful ability to discuss the game in an intelligent and accessible way, and he likes a bit of fun and a sing-song. Atwood and Gilliam are both wonderful artists and they strike me as a bit of fun around a dinner table as well.

14. Favorite aspect of your job?
Walking out of a class that went well is one of the best feelings in the world. Helping students learn more about East Asian culture and history and seeing that interest grow over the course of a term is extremely rewarding. This job is not always easy, but the goal stays the same, and it is an honorable one: to help students work towards realizing their immense potential.

15. Most memorable experience of your youth?
I have many memorable experiences of my youth and they are mostly embarrassing. That's what youth is for, really. To pick something that isn't embarrassing though… when I was 21, in between my BA and MA, I spent the summer working on an archaeological dig just outside Maynooth. It was a wonderful experience, because although I was covered in dirt 24 hours a day, it was Irish dirt and I was about to move to England. It was a lovely way to say goodbye to my country.

16. What would you be doing if you weren't working at Centre?
Ideally, without constraints, I'd be a writer. I'd love to be a film critic and a successful science-fiction writer that gets to yell "No!" at studio executives when they nominate McG or someone awful to direct the film adaptations of my genre-defining classics. Actually if there were no constraints at all I'd be manager of Liverpool Football Club. But let's stick with film critic and immensely powerful cultural icon/writer.

17. Educational experience that's been most helpful to you?
It's all been helpful in one way or another, to be perfectly honest with you… This sounds hokey but you really do have to make the best of what you receive. There is value to be found in most situations, even situations that are difficult. In that context, the educational experience that's been most helpful to me was living in Taiwan. It was a completely foreign culture to the one into which I was born, and it was often an extremely difficult experience, but I learned a huge amount about the universal value of treating people with respect. Sometimes you just need to learn how to do that when the other person has a completely different background to your own.

18. Fictional character in whose shoes you'd love to spend a day?
Leto Atreides, the younger. Massive nerd alert there, and kind of a spoiler. Go and read the Dune novels and be either impressed or horrified. Or Columbo. He's awesome.

19. Favorite place on campus (and why)?
I just got here! I love Old Centre. Not so much the inside of it (though that's lovely) but the fact that it's such a central part of this campus both functionally and symbolically. As an historian, I love that Centre is so proud of its past and its heritage.

20. Advice you'd give to a first-year college student to make success more likely?
Get ahead of things. Do not let things go on and on without finding some kind of solution. The instructors at Centre are here to help you, so let them know if you have issues or concerns as soon as you can. Your first year in university can be a big transition, and the most straightforward way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to get as much information as soon as you can. Don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to ask your instructors for advice. Finish assignments early. Get your work done and submit it early. Get all your reading finished early. Then you can go out and have some well-deserved fun.




Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by the nation's premier study abroad program and a faculty ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" at a liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report. Centre graduates enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average, 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).


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