Department of History
History Club

Interview with Indiana University History Alumna, Dr. Naomi Collins

Our website now contains a link to the transcript of a set of interviews that Charles Stuart Kennedy of the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project conducted with Dr. Naomi Collins, one of our PhD alumni. Dr. Collins studied at IU in the 1960s and received her doctorate in 1970. The transcript provides a fascinating window on places and times ranging from an ethnic neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1950s through Bloomington, London archives, and Moscow from the Cold War to the present day. It also describes Dr. Collins' career in public history and advocacy for international education at various non-governmental organizations.

There are various sections of particular interest for Indiana students and alumni. They include Collins' descriptions of the limited horizons her instructors at her undergraduate institution, Queens College, saw for female students in the 1950s, and the way in which those horizons seemed very different to the faculty at Indiana when Collins arrived there in 1962. Recipient of a Woodward fellowship, Collins not only was allowed to wear slacks but found that her professors in a variety of areas were supportive of her work. Collins eventually decided to work on the English Revolution under advisor Leo Solt, who not only provided timely feedback on draft chapters of her dissertation but figured out ways for her to meet deadlines and requirements as she juggled the demands of being the spouse of a diplomat and the mother of two small children.

Collins married James Collins, who studied in IU's Russian and East European Institute but eventually decided on a Foreign Service career. The transcripts follow the Collins's through various periods abroad starting as exchange students at Moscow State University in the mid 1960s and moving to her dissertation research in London archives before a number of State Department postings. Collins explains how she juggled the life of a diplomatic spouse and built her own career in public history and advocacy for international education in the United States. Several of the families' posting were in Russia, and James Collins rose to be US Ambassador to Russia. Naomi Collins eventually wrote a book reflecting on how Russia changed during her long relationship with the country, Through Dark Days and White Nights: Four Decades Observing a Changing Russia (Washington, DC: Scarith, 2008).

The transcript also details how Naomi Collins also put her education to work outside academia. She served on the research staff of the Maryland Constitutional Convention, worked in Public Affairs for the State Department, at the Library of Congress and for the Congressional Research Service. Collins served as Executive Director of the Maryland Humanities Council from 1981 to 1992, working on a variety of projects designed to bring the humanities in general and history in particular into the lives of Maryland residents. Later she worked as executive director of an organization dedicated to international education.

Overall, the transcripts make fascinating reading. I hope you will enjoy them.

-Peter Guardino