Born in Guildford, England, to American parents working abroad, Lisa Andersen moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 2. She received a B.A. in history and American literature from U.C.L.A., and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. Before joining the Juilliard faculty in 2007, Andersen taught history courses at the University of Chicago for several years while completing her graduate degree.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
My advisor at the University of Chicago was Amy Dru Stanley. She taught me to be fiercely critical of my own writing. The transition from mastering other people’s insights to formulating your own can be intellectually excruciating, and she made sure that I didn’t cut any corners.
Do you have a background in music, dance, or drama?
I have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever, but I think that my lack of talent makes me a very supportive audience member. I’ve been practicing my audience skills since childhood—my parents brought me to Shakespeare productions from age 8 onward—and I learned that I sincerely love the company of artists during my dance and music classes in high school. It’s a bit embarrassing for a Juilliard professor to admit, but I participated in marching band through college. Marching band was good to me; I met my husband—also a history professor—in the ranks of U.C.L.A.’s Solid Gold Sound. To answer the next inevitable question: I play the clarinet (poorly) and he plays the tuba (poorly).
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I love anything that lets me be outside, ranging from grilling dinner to going hiking with my dog. I’m still trying to find an outdoors hobby that can be comfortably accomplished during the winter. I like skiing, but my Brooklyn neighborhood is a bit flat for that.
If you suddenly had a few hours of free time, how would you spend it?
As a new mom, I gladly seize any opportunity to nap.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be and why?
My favorite vacation took me to the Red Center, in Australia. I had bronchitis and an ear infection, and still loved every minute. The scenery and hiking are simply extraordinary; it is a great place for introspection.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be?
Evidence matters. It is good to question assumptions and to ask people how they know what they claim to know.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
I love that I don’t need a car. Within two blocks from my home, there is a grocery and produce store, Trader Joe’s, a movie theater, a dry cleaner, a gym, a veterinarian’s office, and a park. It’s heaven.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
I’d be a park ranger. Except I’d somehow avoid the uniform. Or at least the hat.
What book are you reading right now, or what CD are you listening to … and what can you tell us about it?
I prepared for the fall semester with Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, which students will be reading in my course United States History to 1877. The book traces America’s uneven but unrelenting transition away from deferential politics and toward a system wherein policy-makers were accountable to the governed.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am addicted to reality television, books about zombies, and action movies. I think that most people expect professors to be scholarly in all areas of their lives, but my fine academic taste is completely offset by other, slightly tacky, interests.