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A decade after the Great Recession, UNC is teaching students how to understand it

Professor Benjamin Waterhouse
Professor Benjamin Waterhouse is teaching a class on the 2008 financial crisis. This semester marks the 10 year anniversary of the crisis, and this is the second time Waterhouse has taught the class.

It’s been 10 years since the 2008 financial crisis, and UNC students are still talking about it. 

This semester, professor Benjamin Waterhouse is teaching The History of the 2008 Financial Crisis, a course exploring what many consider the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The course examines the direct causes, background and consequences of the financial crisis to provide students with a holistic understanding. 

While searching for work in fall 2008, Waterhouse personally experienced the negative effects of the crisis.

“For me personally, that meant the academic job market. The job market for Ph.D.s looking for jobs as professors is pretty much terrible on a good day, and I knew that all along, but it made it much, much worse," Waterhouse said.

Of the nearly 30 jobs Waterhouse intended to apply for, a third were cancelled in fall 2008. However, there was still an opening in UNC’s history department for 20th century political history.

Though current students also lived through the financial crisis, their experiences were different.

“Being raised through the 2008 financial crisis, our generation was too young to understand the complexities of it, so this course does a good job of breaking it down and contextualizing it,” said Sean Nguyen, a sophomore taking the class.

In class, Waterhouse discussed his own experiences during the crisis, particularly concerning delinquent mortgages.

“It was really interesting because he actually was one of the people that received one of those mortgages, so it was really cool to put a face and a story to what we’d been reading and learning about in class,” senior Brooke Bekoff said. 

Waterhouse said his aims for the course are two-fold.

“The goals of the course were always to challenge students to understand something that really very few people understand on a substantial level, even those who lived through it. A subsidiary goal is to increase financial literacy and curiosity among students," Waterhouse said. 

Waterhouse acknowledges the complexity of teaching about the crisis, particularly in understanding its connection to the past.

“It is widely agreed that it is the worst thing that happened since the Great Depression, but to connect those dots is actually a challenge. It requires greater understanding of the history of finance," Waterhouse said. 

Despite the complexity of the topic, Nguyen believes it is important to study the financial crisis.

“There’s bound to be another financial crisis in our lifetime as there have been in the past century. As undergrads, it’s important for us to understand the complexity of the crisis so we don’t make the same mistakes,” he said.


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