"If I weren't teaching at Commonwealth," remarked Barbara Grant in 2002, "I'd probably have a job in a rare-book library or a museum." Instead, twenty-five years ago, she became the first trained historian on our faculty and inaugurated Medieval World History, the core course for tenth graders designed to expand Polly Chatfield's Renaissance course beyond Europe. Covering three continents and a thousand years, "Medieval" had no textbook—until Barb used a Hughes Grant to write one.
Barb's roots are Canadian, but she grew up in Pittsburgh and was one of the first women to enroll at Yale College. As a junior studying abroad, she fell in love with medieval manuscripts; she went on to write a doctoral thesis on interreligious relations in the medieval world. As a teacher, she sought new knowledge no less insatiably than she did as a student. Besides studying languages from Turkish to Hindi, she has developed courses in the history of India and Japan, modern Islamic societies, and modern East Asia. Along the way, she taught Latin, served for years as Commonwealth's librarian, and trusted Commonwealth with her two sons, Reilly ’05 and Alex ’09.
Barb was an irreplaceable role model in the joy she took in the life of the mind. Decades before Commonwealth's most recent diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, she was introducing students to (in colleague Melissa Glenn Haber's words) "culture not as the province of the élite, but as the lived experience of all who dwelt in a particular time and place."
Tributes from Our Community
"From freshman fall to senior spring, she was a great advisor and person to talk to. Even when we were quarantined, I always looked forward to our advisor meetings!" —Alex Krusell ’21
"I have so many fond memories of meeting with Barb Grant throughout my time at Commonwealth. This was over a decade ago, but I still distinctly remember the times where we'd talk about our mutual love of Psych (the TV show) or she would share her appreciation for Bollywood and typewriters. There were also plenty of serious days, where she'd give me advice about the problems I was having that week, or wisdom for the future. She's brilliant, thoughtful, and above all, she is kind. I wish her the best for her retirement! —Zoe Ovans ’11
"Barb was incredibly generous with her time, knowledge, and wisdom when I started teaching one section of the Medieval History course that she designed, and for which she even wrote the textbook. And beyond our collaboration in that specific class, she always impressed me with the width and depth of her intellectual curiosity. She can talk passionately about a contemporary Indian novel she is teaching, tapestry-making techniques in Flanders, and the Chinese art of the Sung dynasty, all in one lunch sitting. I will miss our random conversations where we frequently found out we had a new nerdy interest in common. Apart from her intellectual brilliance, Barb was such a hardworking, meticulous planner, a rotund refutation of the stereotype that creative people are messy and absent-minded. She modeled for generations of Commonwealth students what a real scholar and a committed educator should be." —César Pérez
"The thing I most remember about Ms. Grant [as my advisor] was that she always started from 'what do you need?' She offered suggestions with an even smile and an open mind, always met me where I was and seemed genuinely interested in knowing where that was. High school had its fair share of tumult for me and she never seemed ruffled or off put by teenage misadventures like so many other adults around me. As an advisor, she made me feel like there was always a quiet sunny spot for me in her office. Though I perhaps didn't take as much advantage of that as I could have, knowing it was there made all the difference." —Sarah Stearns ’10