Jeremi Suri used to be one of the University of Wisconsin’s most widely-recognized and popular professors. The announcement of his departure after the Capitol protests and Gov. Scott Walker’s budget was viewed as a major loss for the university. From his new home at the University of Texas at Austin, Suri shared his reasons for leaving Wisconsin as well his past.

Where are you from?

I grew up in New York City. My father is an immigrant from India. My mother is of an immigrant family, so I’m a child of immigrants. I went to public school in New York City.

I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to Stanford as an undergrad. I went to Ohio to get my master’s and Yale to get my Ph.D., and then I was hired in Madison. My first 10 years as a scholar and a faculty member after my Ph.D. were in Madison. It was wonderful. I never thought I’d leave, to tell you the truth.

Has anyone in particular inspired you over the years?

One inspiration was my undergraduate history mentor, David Kennedy. I had him as a professor in my first class at Stanford as a freshman.

He just retired now. He’s been a long friend and inspiration. This is someone who is a world-class scholar, [a Pulitzer Prize winner], a teacher and has done all kinds of public service. He’s inspired me throughout my life. I think I became a historian because of him.

My 101-year-old grandmother, who just passed away, inspired me with her commitment to making the world a better place. She believed there was no time for triviality; life was too important to waste.

And it sounds clich?, but I’ve been inspired by my students. If there’s one thing I miss most from Madison, it’s my students.

If you could accomplish one goal in your lifetime, what would that be?

In some small way I would like to be able to say that I helped people conceive of what the American Dream could be for the 21st century.

Why did you decide to leave UW?

I decided to leave because I became convinced that the combination of political pressures and financial pressures were going to limit the ability to do creative and exciting new work for the next few years, and I wanted the opportunity to continue to do this work.

I didn’t leave because I was mad [or] because I felt I had been mistreated. It seemed to me that it was a good time to go somewhere else. I’m 39 years old. I have at least half of my career ahead of me; I don’t want to just coast.

What are you working on now?

I just finished a book on American nation building, how Americans over 200 years have approached nation building and what are the lessons learned that could help us with policy today in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

I also just published a big piece in the New York Times about contemporary American foreign policy and how the lessons of history could, I think, help Obama make better policies than he’s made so far.

This is one of two parts of the Herald’s interview with Suri. It has been edited and condensed. Watch for the second installment in Thursday’s paper.