Michael Hattem: History of Colonial and Revolutionary America

Michael Hattem
History of Colonial and Revolutionary America
B.A., June 2011, Summa cum Laude
Home College: City
Faculty Mentor: Prof. Edwin G. Burrows, History, Brooklyn
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Phi Theta Kappa
The Oscar Lloyd Meyerson Medal
The Sidney J. Pomerantz Prize
CCNY History Dept. Student Mentor
Dean’s List

At 17, Michael Hattem received a GED from New Jersey then spent the next 15 years in menial jobs, struggling to get by. Married with two young sons, for a while, he and his family lived on public assistance. His struggles taught him that “economic comfort is almost meaningless without personal satisfaction in the work one is doing to secure it.” Making the decision to go to college – he started at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2007 — turned out to be one of the best decisions he has ever made, he says.

Hattem has always been a voracious reader and learner, and says his entire life “has been devoted to self-education.” Not only did he earn his H.S. diploma by examination only, but he taught himself subjects like Greek philosophy and tragedy and Marxist theory and history. He is a self-taught musician who plays six instruments; he taught himself audio engineering so he could record his own albums. As a teenager he taught himself to read Hebrew; last year, he began his own study of Greek in the hopes of one day reading the original texts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato and Homer. Well before starting college, he was already pouring over graduate level texts, including recent historiography on the Revolutionary era.

He developed a love of history as a very young child. His particular interest covers the early American republic and revolutionary era, although he is also interested in certain other areas of American radicalism including the history of the American Communist Party as well as the labor movement. “The thread between these distinct interests lies in the way that revolutionary ideas can lead to unprecedented change” he says.

His concentration focuses on the formation of the American Republic and “those strands of thought which helped shape it” – Enlightenment philosophy, English Constitutional and radical history, and classical political philosophy and history. Taking full advantage of CUNY BA, Hattem attended six colleges plus the Graduate Center, commuting from his home on Staten Island. He says it is worth it because “it allows me to take advantage of the courses I need that are spread throughout CUNY and, more importantly, to develop rewarding and enriching relationships with the best professors in my field that CUNY has to offer.”

Hattem has distinguished himself as a scholar. He has served as a research assistant to his mentor, the award-winning, Distinguished Professor of History at Brooklyn College, Edwin G. Burrows, and for Profs. Darren Staloff (History, City/Grad. Center) and Carol Berkin (History, Baruch/Grad. Center). His junior honors research paper “‘As Serves our Interest best’: A Reinterpretation of the Popular Political Response in New York City to the Imperial Crisis, 1765-1776″ was one of only four selected for publication from over sixty nominated by faculty nation-wide for the Columbia Undergraduate Journal of History. In his last semester, he completed an independent study with his mentor, analyzing recent social interpretations of the American Revolution. This was, he says, one of the most valuable courses he took during his entire time as an undergraduate.

Hattem’s long-term goal? A University teaching job. He wants to pass along his deep appreciation and affection for historical inquiry to other college students, particularly engaging those who may have no predisposition for the subject. He has been accepted to Yale’s Ph.D. program in History, one of the most competitive and prestigious programs in the U.S. He’s been awarded a five-year tuition-free fellowship plus a $26,500/yr. stipend and full healthcare coverage for Hattem, his wife and their children.

“I find myself skipping down the street sometimes,” Hattem says. “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”