How Do You Think of History? An Interview with Armstrong History Professors
Professor June Hopkins
I was never very much interested in history as an undergraduate student – I was an English major happily working my way through Chaucer, Shakespeare, Yeats, and Updike. Then, when I was well into adulthood, I decided that I had to write a book about my grandfather and his social work career. It was at that point that I decided that maybe it would be a good idea if I actually learned the history I was writing about. So I went back to school.
The study of history led to a M.A. and a PH. D. in a discipline I came to love and, in the process, it reinvigorated my mind. It also provided me with a livelihood, which is one good reason that the study of history is important to me. In addition, the academic life here at Armstrong, which is both mentally challenging and emotionally rewarding, has pushed me to develop as a scholar and a teacher. I love the process of research and writing and publishing. I couldn’t call myself a historian if I didn’t. But, my time in the classroom has become more and more valuable to me the longer I am here. Whenever I am off campus and I hear a student holler across a restaurant or tap me on the shoulder in front of a store and say, “Hi, Dr. Hopkins. Remember me? I loved your class,” I am reminded of how important the study of history has been to me. (Of course the ones who didn’t love the class never recognize me.)
All of us can appreciate the importance of writing a new investigation of a presidential campaign or looking at the woman’s suffrage movement from a different perspective or discussing with colleagues the latest article on the impact of the Civil War on our nation, but the most important thing to me about the study of history (and getting the letters after one’s name) is that this leads to the ability to teach. For me, it is the students – those who work their way through the classrooms in Hawes Hall, learn from us about the past, and have good memories of their time here – who make me happy to be a historian.
Professor Michael Benjamin
I was drawn to history as a discipline after a legal education and several decades in the practice of law. Although several factors motivated my decision to pursue the study of history, one stands out in my mind today. That was (and continues to be) the opportunity historical study offers to question the past about human efforts to make a difference in human society as revealed by a record of those past efforts. I see these efforts as examples if not models of a human agency and capacity to act even, if needed, within restrictive cultural, social, and political circumstances to make a difference in the human condition. Not infrequently, I find that the study of history requires a patience and curiosity to peel back layers of misguided if also genuine readings and interpretations that hide past models of the best of human agency. When this is true historical study for me takes on the dimension of a treasure hunt with the prize found in the construction of a historical meaning previously obscured, if not buried in the past. I enjoy participating in such searches as a use of my on humanity in the production of historical knowledge as a treasure of the human experience.
Professor Mark Finlay
"People who wait for the inevitable are almost always disappointed." (Ari Kelman, A River and Its City) So perhaps that means that the study of history helps prepare people for addressing the multiple issues that shape human experiences at different times and different places.
Professor Barbara C. Fertig
History is important to everyone, not just to me, because it sows doubt among the arrogant and affirmation among the neglected.
(Interviewed by Charles Halton Thomas)
Charles Halton Thomas, "How Do You Think of History? An Interview with Armstrong History Professors," Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 1, no. 1 (Spring 2011).