Exit Interview: John A. Hall

Having retired earlier this year, Professor John A. Hall (Sociology) shares insights from his illustrious career at McGill, as well as what lies ahead for him beyond the Roddick Gates.

Professor HallIn 1991, Emeritus James McGill Professor of Sociology John A. Hall was one of the Faculty of Arts’ newest faculty members, arriving at McGill after having taught at Harvard University. Hall had always been fond of Montreal and McGill, and credits moving to la belle province with motivating his research on nationalism. “I would not have done the work I had done had I not been stimulated by being in Quebec,” he reflects.

As a comparative sociologist, Hall’s research has often straddled different disciplines and methodologies. Whether it was writing about state behavior from a political perspective or writing on state economic reform, he has always taken a unique approach to his research, embracing both historical and sociological perspectives in his work. Hall has published many monographs, including an account of the rise of the West, a biography of Ernest Gellner, a book on civil society and several dealing with state behaviour, with special reference to the links between geopolitics and economic performance. Presently, he is writing on the interaction between nations, states and empires. “Through my research, I see the puzzles in the world and try to solve them through a multitude of perspectives,” he says. “I’ve always done it my way and haven’t paid much attention to the formal rules inside academic departments.”

Hall’s favourite course to teach during his time at McGill was Sociological Theory (SOCI 330), a large introductory level course that is compulsory for Sociology majors. “It brought a great deal of joy to have taught so many of the bright young minds at McGill,” he says. However, he notes, many students were “terrified” of his approach to teaching: “I made them read only primary texts from authors who were not normally taught!” Additionally, Hall says it was an immense pleasure to teach graduate students, noting many of them went on to pursue successful academic careers of their own.

Hall’s own teaching and research career has garnered him several accolades, including the 2016 Prix du Québec Léon-Gérin and the Royal Society of Canada’s 2016 Innis-Gérin Medal. He also served as Dean of Arts from 2003 to 2005, a role he truly enjoyed. “I was Dean during a time of expansion for the Faculty of Arts,” he says, “and I am proud to had something to do with the revival of the Islamic Studies Institute as well as a number of key academic appointments in other departments.” On top of this, however, Hall says he was simply proud of fact of being a McGill faculty member: “I was very happy to be able to cooperate with historians and other members of departments. All in all, I liked a lot of things at McGill!”

Hard work had undoubtedly played a role in Professor Hall’s career, and he encourages current and future students to put in the work into their own endeavours, too. “Universities are an enormous privilege for young people,” he says. “However, it’s also important for students to engage in their community, and to find time for their friends and their social lives, too.”

Despite his retirement from the Faculty of Arts, Professor Hall has no plans of slowing down his research. He has a forthcoming publication with Cambridge this year, and another book – to be published with Penguin – in the works.

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