Historian Ruth Miller
Ruth A. Miller received her PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University in 2003, and several months later arrived at UMass Boston as an assistant professor of history.
“One of my firmest convictions as a member of the university community is that research and teaching are intimately connected—that a classroom is a space in which students can be exposed to, as well as participate in, the intellectual discovery that is “research” writ large,” says Miller. “I can think of no better place to develop a teaching philosophy.”
As a graduate student, she had been tacitly taught that the academic ideal was a pure research institute involving as little interaction with students as possible. After she arrived at UMass Boston, however, she realized that this was a false ideal.
“I can no longer imagine either the production of meaningful scholarship in the absence of students or effective teaching in the absence of a rigorous research agenda,” she observes. “My fundamental goal as a teacher has thus been to create an environment in which students are not afraid to move beyond the skill acquisition associated with ‘education’ and toward the relentless questioning of norms and ideals associated with ‘research.’”
The most obvious way in which this approach plays out in her history courses is that she leads students to question the authoritative bases of any and all historical narratives. Put another way, she tries to maintain a classroom in which the students—rather than the texts—can become the critical authorities.
For example, the textbook that she was encouraged to use for Modern Western Civilization—a core introductory level course she has taught every semester but one during her time at UMass Boston—has become one of the course’s key primary sources. Miller asks her students to approach it no less critically than they do the more obviously ideological works.
As a result, students in the course learn not only to analyze various types of texts from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, but also to question the veneration of authority that underlies so much of modern educational practice—a veneration embodied most obviously
in The Textbook.
“My hope is that by creating a space in which such questioning can occur, I can provide students with an opportunity for their own, self-aware intellectual growth,” explains Miller. So she deliberately exposes students to the difficult work of a number of eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century political theorists including Kant, Rousseau, Mazzini, Marx, de Beauvoir, and others. She then encourages the students to draw their own conclusions about these theorists’ influence on modern and contemporary history.
Miller’s research draws on jurisprudential literature in a number of European and West Asian languages, and her writing addresses legal issues that transcend conventional geographical, chronological, and methodological boundaries. She has written five books. One of these, The Erotics of Corruption: Law, Scandal, and Political Perversion, was published by SUNY Press in 2008 and reissued as a paperback in 2009.
Her focus, especially in recent years, has been to propose a new starting point for legal analysis—one that sidelines human subjects in order to question the centrality that agency, identity, and embodiment have taken in law scholarship.