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Spotlight: Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Stanley Paterson Professor of American History, Boston Clemente

Executive Director Lela Hilton
Tim McCarthy (photo by Martha Stewart)

Harvard professor Tim McCarthy has been part of the Boston Clemente Course in Dorchester, MA, since its founding in 2001. Recruited by his friend Neal Dolan, Boston Clemente's founding Academic Director, Tim originally came on board to teach American History. He went on to serve as Academic Director for nearly a decade, and in 2014, he was awarded the distinction of becoming the Stanley Paterson Professor of American History, Clemente's first (and still only) endowed chair in the nation. Get to know Tim with our quick Q&A!

What motivated you to get involved with Clemente? I joined the Clemente faculty because I believe in the power of the humanities to transform lives and I believe that everyone has the right to this kind of education. I also believe that people like me who are based in universities have a responsibility to do our work more broadly—in deep, ongoing solidarity with communities that might not yet have access to the schools where we teach.

Please share a favorite Clemente memory, or a favorite "fact" about the program that makes you proud to share your time and support!

I am proud of everyone involved in the Clemente Course—our brilliant scholars and graduates, my devoted faculty colleagues, the amazing staff at the Codman Square Health Center, and the many stalwart supporters at Mass Humanities. Together, we are all engaged in something very special, and rare. One of my favorite memories of Clemente happened during my second year teaching American History, in 2002, which was also my first year as Academic Director. We had been discussing documents from the American Revolution, during which we talked about the importance of people speaking up and acting out in the face of tyranny and oppression. The next week, the students came to class buzzing. They asked me if they could attend a town hall meeting taking place across the street to protest statewide budget cuts to public education and social services. I was initially hesitant, mostly because this was going to cut into the first half of our class that evening, and our time was precious. Then one student (echoing Abigail Adams) said: “But Professor Tim, we want to foment a rebellion!” I laughed, let them go, and they did just that. We all learned a lesson that night.

What do you do outside of the Clemente universe—for work and for play? My “day job” is teaching at Harvard University, where I am on the faculties at the Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government. I’m also a historian of politics and social movements who teaches courses on race, ethnicity, and equity in education; social justice movements and protest literatures; African-American and LGBTQ+ histories; and leadership and communications. For play, I volunteer for various political campaigns, work on various projects with the American Repertory Theater, go for walks on the beach with my husband and our dog in Provincetown, and cheer my niece on in AAU basketball. It's a full life.

What makes Clemente and the study of the humanities special to you?

I have long defined the humanities as the study of what it means to be human so that we can all become more humane. Humanists are not people who hoard wealth, wage war, and abuse power. We ask critical questions, search for deeper truths, and try our best to foster human connections. That’s why the humanities are best when shared—a common commitment to something bigger than ourselves. I believe deep in my bones that this collective work, which is the heart and soul of Clemente, can help to free us all. We need this now more than ever.

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