We are sad to announce that Assistant Teaching Professor Helen Perros is retiring after 38 years in the Department of History. There will be an informal gathering outside of Withers Hall on Wednesday, May 5th to say goodbye to both Dr. Perros and retiring professor James Boyles. Recently we caught up with her to talk about her career and future plans.
You went to college in Ireland. Is that where you’re from?
I grew up in Ireland and did both my B.A. and Ph.D. in Trinity College Dublin (the University of Dublin).
When did you start working here?
I started working here in the fall of 1983. My husband Harry, whom I’d met at Trinity, had gotten a job in the Computer Science Department at NC State the previous year.
What is your area of research?
My Ph.D. was on the Anglo-Normans in Connacht (in the west of Ireland) from the late 12th to the early 14th century, and it led me to probe further into the whole question of frontiers and of cultures colliding—in this case, the still vibrant Celtic culture of Gaelic-Ireland on the one hand and the dynamic more newly formed culture of the Anglo-Normans on the other. What’s so fascinating is exploring the assimilation that takes place and how both it and the hostilities impact the two cultures’ identities. That then led me to take a broader look and see how all of this played out in the British Isles as a whole and I ended up exploring the role that myth played in creating a sense of national identity among the English (as the Anglo-Normans called themselves), the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh in the High Middle Ages.
Did what you teach change over the years?
Well, I’ve taught HI 208—The Middle Ages—every year since I got here but I’ve loved it because there is so much to explore! I’ve kept it fresh by assigning a different paper topic pretty much every semester, so I keep learning more myself. Over the years, I’ve also taught HI 409—The High Middle Ages—and I’ve directed students doing Honors Research in HI 495H & 496H and Independent Studies in HI 498 on various aspects of medieval Irish history. Outside of the Department, I’ve taught HON 290 on The Intersection of Myth and History in the British Isles, 1066-1328, and I’ve given classes for Encore and OLLI on The Ancient Celts and their Legacy and on Ireland’s 1916 Rebellion and the Struggle for Independence.
Did you teach last Spring or Fall? If so, how did Covid affect how you taught?
Transitioning to teaching via Zoom was easier than I thought it would be. It’s not the same as being in the classroom, of course, but it’s the next best thing!
What did you like most about teaching at NC State?
Well, I come from an academic background, so I’ve been very happy to be part of NC State and the History Department’s academic mission. What I’ve loved above all is the interaction with students. It’s something very special to be able to connect with students and to explore the past with them. For me, it’s been an immensely gratifying symbiotic relationship. I’ve also enjoyed some great friendships here, one being with my officemate Dr. Carolyn Pumphrey—I’ve really relished the vigorous discussions we’ve had about the Middle Ages.
What are your plans for the future?
Nothing very specific at the moment other than enjoy the company of my wonderful family and friends and travel whenever possible. I’m keeping my options open as to what I’d like to pursue in academia and the arts. I’m sure I’ll find lots to interest me.