Interpreting History

Denny Hall

Robert Emerson '77 was recently awarded the National Order of Merit by the French government, an honor about which the former political science and history double major says, "I never dreamed of this, sitting in Denny Hall [pictured above] in 1976 studying European history." 

Former political science and German major Robert Emerson ’77 credits Dickinson’s liberal-arts education with sparking his keen interest in history. After working at different museums and historic sites, he became executive director of Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, N.Y.

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path? 
I have worked in museums and historic sites since graduating in 1977. Dickinson taught me useful skills in conducting research, communicating with others, synthesizing varying points of view, strategic planning, budgeting, conflict resolution and appreciating different cultures. Dickinson’s broad-based distribution requirements sparked a keen interest in history, politics, foreign languages and early music, interests I retain to this day. 
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?
German House/Sprachtisch. This was an evening gathering of German students in one of the side rooms of the HUB where only German was spoken. 
How has Dickinson’s focus on global education impacted your life or career since graduation? 
I did not study abroad but highly valued the German department. Many of my fellow students had participated in these programs, and I benefitted from interacting with them. My initial plan was to major in political science, but I ended up double majoring in political science and German.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
There are so many. I think the camaraderie at the German House (two years a resident) is a highlight. We often composed skits and Horspiele in German and had a great rapport with the faculty—at the time, Professors Rollfinke, Eddy and Steiner.
How do you stay involved with Dickinson?  
I read Dickinson Magazine, have participated in webinars and have stayed in touch with a couple of classmates.
What does your current work entail? 
Overall administration of an 18th-century historic site. This involves supervising staff and volunteers, fund raising, government relations, marketing, strategic planning, budgeting and running interpretive programs and events.
How did you get interested in your career, and what about it excites you most?
My senior year, I took a course on 18th-century European history, taught by Professor Dennis Klinge. This changed my life, and I decided to pursue a career in public history. Although most of my job involves administration and fundraising, I truly enjoy interpreting history to the public.
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
I married another history enthusiast, had twins (who also love history) and became executive director of my favorite historic site, Old Fort Niagara, in Youngstown, N.Y. Most recently I was awarded the National Order of Merit by the French government. This bestows the rank of Chevalier. I never dreamed of this, sitting in Denny Hall in 1976 studying European history. 

Published October 27, 2022