John BroichAt a young age, John Broich felt a compulsion to understand how things came to be. Well before his high school years, he remembers thinking that the fundamental questions about how people came to act and think weren’t being asked.

Like any good researcher, he began searching for answers to these questions.

“A great high school teacher taught me the worth of learning—something not taken for granted where I’m from,” said Broich, assistant professor of history. “And that, combined with my instinct, led me to history in college.”

Broich attended Saint Olaf College, where he graduated with a degree in English, history, and medieval studies before earning a master’s in history from University of Maine and a PhD in British history from Stanford University. He and his brother became the first two in his father’s family to graduate from college; both then went on to graduate and professional school.

His instinct for history has been on display at Case Western Reserve University since he became a member of the faculty in 2007. Broich’s teaching and research interests include the history of the British Empire, the history of race, and environmental history and public health history.

Readers can get a peek into Broich’s inquisitive mind in his latest book, London, Water and the Making of the Modern City, where he asks—and answers—several fundamental questions, such as:

  • Where do our assumptions come from about the proper role of city government?
  • Why did officials in Britain and the U.S decide cities should provide citizens with very cheap water? Why not food?
  • Should cities have created nearly free, high-quality municipal hospitals in the mid-1800s before water supplies?

Most recently, his work earned him a President’s Award from The Academic Minute—a radio program that highlights academic research and scholarship—for his contributions to the program. His episode of The Academic Minute aired in November with a look at the history of the municipal water supply. Broich was one of five winners of the program’s third annual Senior Superlatives.

Aside from teacher and researcher, Broich also takes on the role of director of undergraduate studies in the history department, where he is responsible for the undergraduate curriculum and recruiting and supporting new majors.

“Being director of undergraduate studies also means that I get to teach our capstone research workshop, which means that I get to see how accomplished our majors become over the course of their history careers,” he said. “Truly, over the course of just a few years I see students gain great skill at marshaling evidence to support smart arguments.”

Like the high school teacher who reached him, Broich also tries to convey the worth of learning and continued education to his students, no matter what role he is playing.

“As a professor, I provoke smart thinking and writing skills,” Broich said. “I could not find that job more important. It’s the reason I’m in this profession. As undergraduate studies director, I combine the roles of shepherd—guiding students along the path of their major—adviser, teacher and fan.”

Learn more about Broich in this week’s five questions.

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
If I could airlift my wife, little boy, and Case Western Reserve and plop it down in London, I would.

2. What was your first concert?
The Smashing Pumpkins.

3. Where is your favorite spot on campus and why?
Mather House, Room 203, when my history department colleagues and I can gather for lunch.

4. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right here, teaching and writing books.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
There’s a lot. My colleagues, my students, University Circle, and the College of Arts and Sciences.