Noble discusses influences and teaching at ND

Professor Thomas F.X. Noble, the current chair of the Notre Dame Department of History, recently received the Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award.  Noble described receiving the award as “a great honor.”

“There are a lot of wonderful teachers and scholars, a lot of people who were very eligible for this award,” he told The Rover.  “When I was named I looked at the list of past award winners.  They were great teachers, and I feel special to be placed among them.”

Despite obtaining this honor, he remains modest about his teaching abilities.  “I don’t think of myself as innovative,” he explained.  “What I think I bring is enormous energy and passion for what I do.  I love what I do and hope to inspire my students with this passion.”

Although many professors find it difficult to strike a balance between scholarship and teaching, Noble believes them to be complementary.  Re-reading scholarship and other interpretations are required for teaching in order to better articulate history to students, which in turn aids future scholarship.

Noble cannot identify any deep philosophical reason or particular instance in which he knew he was going to pursue medieval history as a career.  While he had numerous great history professors throughout the course of his schooling, including one who pulled him aside and told him to become a history professor, he ultimately chose it because it interested him.

With regard to his focus on medieval history and late antiquity, Noble believes his Catholic education was seminal. While attending Catholic school throughout his life, he became interested in Rome, the pope and the history of Catholicism — topics in which he now specializes.

“It got into my DNA, it was a part of who I was and I discovered that I could actually study these things,” he recalled.

Currently, Noble is collecting material for a future book about the history of the papacy and writing a book entitled Rome in the Medieval Imagination.  In this book, he hopes to describe the history of perceptions of Rome, because in learning about Rome, one often learns more about the time period than the city itself.  Noble hopes to be the first to describe what Rome meant to the people of the medieval world.

Outside of Notre Dame, Noble is involved with the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA).  Over 100 years old, the ACHA was originally largely composed of clergy from Catholic schools with a particular interest in the history of the Church.  Today, they publish a quarterly magazine entitled the Catholic Historical Review.  About a year ago, Professor Noble was nominated as a vice presidential candidate for the ACHA and will be expected to serve as president of the ACHA in 2012.

As a teacher, his favorite courses are Western Civilization and the World of the Middle Ages.  These are opportunities to introduce students to expansive subjects.  “I am very interdisciplinary.  I am about the nuts and bolts of history and drawing connections between them,” he stated.  “As historians we succeed best when equipping students with a foundation and piquing their curiosity, so that then they do not need us anymore.”

While Noble appreciates the work ethic and intelligence of Notre Dame students, as well as the familial connection among many of them, he does have advice for improving their educational experience.  He believes that students here have the tendency not to challenge or argue with one another when they disagree, something that he considers an instrumental and necessary part of a more intellectually intense education.

Ultimately, Noble hopes to model a certain kind of behavior to the Notre Dame community.  As a former director of the Medieval Institute, member of the Faculty Senate and a cradle Catholic he says that he hopes to show that “you can be a good scholar, Catholic, and teacher.”  To him, scholarship is not only about learning but also about involvement. He believes a student should cultivate gratitude for the opportunities they have here and strive to contribute to the university community.

Though Bob Burkett is an anthropology and political science major, he comes from a family of history majors.  Contact him at