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Prof from England follows, finds love in US

Bianca Briggs / Lantern photographer

Chris Otter came to the U.S. from England in 2002, following his wife and finding another love: teaching history at Ohio State.

Otter is an associate professor in the Department of History who is in his fourth year at OSU. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on historical methods, Western civilization, British history, European history and the history of science, technology and medicine.

A native of Grimsby, England, he followed his heart to the U.S.

“I met my wife in England, but she’s American and she was returning to the U.S., so I came back with her,” Otter said.

Otter’s wife, Kristina Sessa, is also a history professor at OSU.

“When we first got married we had jobs on opposite sides of the country. She was working in Los Angles and I was working in New York,” Otter said. “Jobs became available here, and we moved here, and we are very, very happy here.”

History was Otter’s favorite subject in high school and he enjoys being at a university where he can teach students and continue to do research.

“I like the fact that you can take history in kind of any direction you want; it’s kind of a totally open-ended subject,” Otter said. “I was a high school teacher for awhile in my early 20s and I enjoyed it, but I missed the intellectual challenge of academic work.”

Peter Hahn, a professor and chair of the Department of History, called Otter a gifted scholar.

“Professor Otter is a remarkable teacher. Based on his SEI scores and other indicators, it’s safe to conclude that his students admire and respect him,” Hahn said in an e-mail. “He has created new courses in the history of science that have attracted interest across campus.”

Otter graduated from the University of Oxford with a bachelor’s degree in 1991 and got his doctorate from the University of Manchester in 2002.

“He’s in (education) because he believes in education and he believes in training students how to think and how to write,” Sessa said. “He really loves what he does and he finds it relaxing, at the same time stimulating.”

Otter is a fan of the American education system and thinks students at Ohio State get a better deal than Oxford students.

“The (British) system is completely different,” Otter said. “Everything is entirely based on exams. There is no course work whatsoever. If you fail your exam, then you just fail, that’s it.

“It’s very, very high stress … I much, much prefer the system of giving students papers to write and letting them re-write them while working with their professors. Professors gave me no help at all at Oxford.”

Otter has written one book and is working on his second.

The first book is titled “The Victorian Eye: A Political History of Light and Vision in Britain” and won the 2009 Morris D. Forkosch Prize and the 2008 Sonya Rudikoff Prize.

The American Historical Association awards the Morris D. Forkosch Prize to the best English language book in British history. The Northeastern Victorian Studies Association awards The Sonya Rudikoff prize to the best Victorian book by a first time author.

“It’s an absolutely unbelievable amount of work to write a book,” Otter said. “My first book I finished relatively quickly, probably took me about eight years in total.”

Outside of work Otter likes to spend his free time with his family, especially his two sons Nicholas and Sam, ages 4 and 1, respectively.

When Otter is not working or spending time with the boys, Sessa said Otter is a big soccer and cricket fan.

“One of the big splurges we have is the premium cable so we have Fox Soccer Channel,” Sessa said. “Every weekend he spends a couple of hours on Saturdays and Sundays catching up with the English Premier League.”

Sessa said Otter is also a knowledgeable beer drinker.

“For Christmas, I got him a beer of the month club as his present,” Sessa said. 

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