Carnegie Mellon University

Faculty Friday: Katherine A. Lynch

February 17, 2017

Faculty Friday: Katherine A. Lynch

By Renee Madrigal

Dr. Katherine A. Lynch is a Carnegie Mellon Professor of European history who specializes in population and familial and social institutions in France. Since her first trip to France during college, she has spent much time over the course of the years visiting and working in the country, especially in Paris. She usually meets up with long-time friends and passes her time like most tourists to the beautiful city: walking around, seeing movies, and eating the food. A proud Francophile, Professor Lynch also enjoys her time deep in research at the Paris archives as much as her time spent at the French beaches.

Whether on French or American soil, Professor Lynch can often be found enjoying her time outside. She has always been an avid hiker and outdoorswoman, though her mountain climbing days are now behind her. She recently completed an 80-mile walk across England along Hadrian’s Wall near the Scottish border. She and a friend walked the length in about 7 days in what she calls a “lazy woman’s hike,” since they stayed at bed and breakfasts each night with comfy beds, warm showers, and good wine. If she is not traversing the outdoors in England, Professor Lynch might be hiking in the cool weather of New York’s Adirondack Mountains or Montana’s Glacier National Park. In fact, one of her most dramatic hiking stories comes from her time in Montana. Crossing the gorgeous park off her bucket list, she finally hiked there several summers ago for over a week. Part of the park’s attraction is the presence of large wildlife such as bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats, and grizzly bears. She recounts, “I’ll tell you my famous grizzly bear in Glacier National Park story. Throughout the week of being on the trails we were looking out from ridges with binoculars trying to spot grizzlies. Well, we were coming home from a hike on one of the last days—we were just about on this wooden bridge when we saw a grizzly bear walking maybe 25 yards from us, on all fours. Of course I stopped abruptly but my friend with a camera kept trying to get closer! This bear walked over to the bridge and backed up to it and stood there scratching its back for about 10 minutes, as we just stood in awe watching it. It was a comedic moment but at the time we didn’t know which way the bear was going to go—it could have turned right towards us on this little bridge. It was the trip of a lifetime.”

If coming face to face with a grizzly bear does not yet prove Professor Lynch’s love of nature (which it totally does), I can also attest to the fact that throughout this interview, the rustle of leaves and the wind could be heard through her open window. She spoke more about her hobbies and their contrast to her intellectual work as an academic. To balance the mental fatigue of her profession, Professor Lynch finds joy in experiencing the physical fatigue of working outdoors. She likes to garden in her backyard in Squirrel Hill. Though she mostly tries to grow what the deer won’t eat, she counts climbing flowers amongst her favorites, along with perennials and tomatoes. She says, “I love coming inside filthy and dirty, having just done gardening. It is such a good change and I think that’s what makes life interesting.”

It is the juxtaposition of interests and activities that Professor Lynch loves. She finds that the interactive and social aspects of teaching and the solitary nature of research and writing enhance one another. She encourages students to pursue both hobbies and a career that feed multiple parts of who they are.

#FacultyFriday: Dr. Lynch has been a History Department member at Carnegie Mellon University since 1980. Currently, her research is focused on the comparison between French poor relief institutions and the English Poor Law system during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Read more about Prof. Lynch » All Faculty Friday profiles »