Using the Long Lens of History to Understand Political Science

Diana Funez
Photo Credit: 
Renee Basick

Student Profile: Aubrey Christoferson, AB'19 (Political Science/History, expected)

Aubrey Christofersen was interested in Political Science, but after just two History classes, he knew he wanted to look into a double major. To Christofersen, a rising third year and a Chicago native, the two subjects are a natural pair. “History provides the backbone for political science,” he says. Through his courses, he has seen that political theory and philosophy have deep roots in history, and history, in turn, can become political.


Beginning with introductory courses for his Political Science major, Christofersen was not expecting intensive theory and philosophy. But once classes began, he enjoyed discovering the concrete historical foundation for those abstract theories. “I’m thankful for it,” he says. “The classes were so much more rewarding.” 


Christofersen’s positive experiences with his teachers have also encouraged his passion for these subjects. He speaks enthusiastically of Assistant Professor Robert Gulotty and Associate Professor Gerald Rosenberg of the Political Science Department as well as of Associate Professor Jonathan Lyon of Medieval History. “These professors are outstanding because they are true experts in their fields,” Christofersen says.


Christofersen says he decided to double major in part because of the required reading in Lyon’s course on Comparative Kingship: Rulers in 12th Century Europe (HIST 12101). He was struck by the rhetoric used to describe how a certain Emperor’s lawyers justified an invasion of Italy. “The way it was written showed that the author wants you to pick up on the politics,” Christofersen says. “It really feels like the author wants you to feel the political motives.” Much as he valued the historical context of his Political Science courses, he finds his political science interests have given him a new perspective on history.

Christofersen’s experiences in the Social Sciences aren’t limited to his coursework. He’s been struck by the way professors care about their students outside the classroom too. Once, while doing some grocery shopping in Hyde Park, he ran into Peter B. Ritzma Professor Charles Lipson, also of the Political Science Department and author of Doing Honest Work in College. Standing in line, the Professor struck up a conversation about his latest article in RealClearPolitics and then surprised his former student by offering to drive him home. “He remembered what it was like to carry heavy groceries,” Christofersen recalls. “I think he is the nicest person I’ve ever met.”


This summer Christofersen has a Metcalf internship on campus with the communications team in the Division of the Social Sciences. He is working to create new content and designs for the Divisional website, and has contributed photographs for the Division’s social media. One of his projects involves creating an online archive of Dialogo, the Division’s publication for alumni.


Christofersen also works as a Photo Editor for The Chicago Shady Dealer, the satirical newspaper and a student favorite. Echoing his developing sense for the connections between history and politics, he notes that “images are necessary to make data and information easily digestible,” an idea he puts into practice both through humor and through his graphics work for the Division.


Looking forward to next year, Christofersen has a busy schedule. He plans to branch out even further into the Social Sciences with Introduction to Macroeconomics (ECON 19900). But he will continue to explore the unexpected interdependence of history and political science in courses like Introduction to American Politics and Nuclear Age (HIST 25424) — a History course for which Christofersen thinks political science will again provide a lens.