History Peeps: Dr. Evan Haefeli, Associate Professor of History
Approaching history imaginatively makes the past more fluid and alive. It means questioning the inevitability of events and looking past obvious answers.
For Evan Haefeli, growing up surrounded by his father’s history books in Westhampton, New York, the long hours he spent thumbing through their glossy illustrations first sparked his imagination. To him, these books were not old relics about by-gone eras. Instead, their pages promised adventure to distant worlds still unknown. He observes with a smile, “I was just kind of drawn to them by some mysterious force.”
In high school and at Hampshire College, Dr. Haefeli considered going into film. He adapted Monty Python skits with friends for fun, spent a summer working as an extra in Alan Alda’s 1986 comedy Sweet Liberty, and even performed alongside well-known actor Liev Schreiber in several Hampshire College plays. In 1992, however, the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to North America sparked Dr. Haefeli’s curiosity about Native American history. He wanted to recover indigenous voices and understand perspectives too often ignored.
Throughout his career, Dr. Haefeli has poked holes in historical dogma. His creative outlook prompts him to embrace the messiness of history. History is not a continuous, linear path marching inevitably in one direction. Instead, it consists of ordinary people making ad hoc decisions with unforeseeable outcomes. He hopes his scholarship makes it so “people don’t take America for granted.” He wants to challenge historians who portray the American Revolution or U.S. independence as inevitable. Dr. Haefeli also challenges the conventional focus on the thirteen colonies. The thirteen rebellious colonies did not exist in a vacuum, but were part of a vibrant, interconnected network of British and European colonies that pulsed with movement and exchange.
To what historical figure would Evan Haefeli like to say “howdy” if given a chance? Dr. Haefeli would love to meet the Great Inca of the Inca Empire before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Haefeli would want to see how the Inca “created this whole world on their own terms.” He thinks it would underscore the diversity of human experience and celebrate the different ways of being human.
Jennifer Wells ’24