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Remembering 9/11: Ten Years Later

David Quigley spent much of the summer of 2001 in New York City researching his first book

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David Quigley, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of history

A native of Brooklyn, David Quigley is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of history whose research focus is 19th-century New York City.   

I spent much of the summer of 2001 in the city finishing off research for Second Founding, my first book. I had just been back in Boston for a few weeks when September 11 came. One of my clearest memories of that time was how much I had been in and around Manhattan in the weeks and months leading up to September 11. I was focused on 19th-century New York and the crises leading up to the Civil War. I was working on how to refine my argument for the book while the greatest catastrophe in the city’s history was laid out in front of me, in front of all of us.   

That Tuesday morning I was talking with a senior about his thesis project on the Spanish Civil War. It was difficult trying to proceed with a normal meeting that day as all of us were quickly drawn into a crisis facing the world. Then in the days and weeks that followed it was much the same. It took some time to get back to something that seemed like a normal routine, in the classroom, on campus, and at home.   

Since 9/11 there has been a good deal of renewed interest in US foreign policy. Seth Jacobs is a wonderful professor and lecturer and one of the reasons he’s attracted crowds to his classes is the renewed interest in the history of U.S. foreign relations. There has been a sustained interest, immediately after 9/11 and then as wars played out across the globe.

In the dean’s office, I’ve been able to see continued interest in international studies as both a major and a minor. That interest is influencing the choices of students as they go about their various academic pursuits. The intellectual context of post- 9/11 America has shaped the approach of many undergraduates. Arts and Sciences has moved from having a Middle Eastern Studies minor to implementing a major in Islamic Civilization and Society. Our faculty continues to refine our approach to engaging students to a high level of exploration in the Islamic world.   

September 11 stands out as the defining American event of my lifetime. While many historical forces have shaped my generation and my children’s generation, I would point to that day and its aftermath as singularly transformative.  Maybe this is the New Yorker in me, but 10 years on so much of who we are – our politics, our global economy, our culture, our religious life, the way we think – all have been shaped by 9/11.   

I can’t help but reflect back on that day. When I visit the memorial labyrinth on campus, or visit Ground Zero, I think of former BC students or friends and neighbors from Brooklyn and the Jersey Shore. There remains a whole flood of memories connected to that day. In some ways we might think that we have moved on.  

As we approach the 10th anniversary, I’m becoming convinced that in many ways, we’re just beginning to understand how 9/11 changed who we are.

For our final story in the series, New York City native Thomas Massaro, SJ, a professor in the School of Theology and Ministry and a frequent researcher and commentator on Catholic social issues, reflects on the attacks and the aftermath.