The state of Kansas pays me to study history and talk about it -- something I'd do on my own time for nothing more than personal enjoyment even if I were still working ten hours a day six days a week at that smelly factory (corporate name deleted) back in Cleveland. And I knew all along that that's what I wanted to do. So, after the bachelor's degree and a tour with Uncle Sam (who had helped pay for the bachelor's degree) I went back to school and, with the help of the G.I. Bill and lots of caffeine, followed my dream. An indescribable feeling of isolation often comes to 35 year old students whose old friends have long since gotten paying jobs, but I can now tell you with absolute assurance that such queasiness was worth the trouble.
I have taught at Pitt State since 1994 and chaired my department for nine years. Since arriving in "SEK" (Southeast Kansas for the non-initiated) my travels for research and presentation have taken me to numerous colleges and universities around the country, and acquainted me with hundreds of their faculty and administrators. I have yet to encounter any other state university anywhere that affords undergraduates or M.A. candidates more frequent and unfettered access to their professors. No teaching fellows or grad assistants work for me. I do all of my own teaching, and that is the way it should be.
The department recruited me to teach its upper division and graduate level Civil War, Reconstruction and general American military history courses, as well as the first and second halves of the introductory level American history survey. Since then, I have also developed and taught courses on World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Nazi Germany, Military Aviation, Armored Warfare, and War in Film. Each of our history programs -- the B.A., B.S.Ed. (for aspiring high school and middle school teachers) and M.A. -- is flexible enough so that credit earned in any of these courses can count toward the degree. Those of you who like history but seek a B.A. or B.S. degree in another discipline and need a minor can customize the 24-credit hour history minor to suit yourselves. Many of my students past and present have done or are doing exactly that. If you have questions about any of these courses or programs, feel free to shoot me an email and we can talk. I'd be delighted to hear from you.
Why study history? That's really two questions: (1) Why do I study it for a living and (2) Why do others, regardless of their chosen professions, need historical insight? Both are easy enough to answer. History fascinates me because it is an infinitely huge collection of interesting stories -- often about people dealing with difficult situations. Admittedly, most of those people have been dead for years and most of them lived in places and times significantly different from our own. Nevertheless, by knowing what they did and why they did it, we can often learn something about how and why we got to where we are today. In short, we end up understanding ourselves, our own values, and our own times more completely. Remember: those stories aren't just about dead people. They're about dead people who matter to us -- they're ancestors, both familial and cultural, of someone alive today. The first stories to grab my attention as a kid were stories my mom and dad told about getting through the Great Depression and World War II. Those were tough times for the folks, and it was sometimes a challenge for this Baby Boomer, born into more fortunate circumstances, to get the stories out of them. Nevertheless, it soon became clear to me that their experiences and resulting attitudes were acting upon me every day, like it or not. So what if I never had to walk five miles to school every day or worry about where my next meal was coming from? So what, indeed.
Which leads me to the second part of the "Why study history?" question. If you are an American citizen, you either are a voter or you should be. The main difference between voters and those who sleep in on election day is that voters are meeting their principal obligation as citizens and non-voters are not. Politicians with competing agendas want your votes and will usually do or say whatever it takes to get them. What is said and done is not always entirely true and not always entirely ethical, and both of our major political parties in America are equally guilty when it comes to hardly ever getting things exactly right. One particularly nasty habit Republican and Democratic candidates share is that they often take it upon themselves to tells us what the framers of our Constitution really intended, why this country has turned out the way it has, where it is going, where it can go, and where it should be going. Voters and non-voters unfamiliar with the first three may not be able to figure out the fourth, and therefore will not have very well-informed ideas as to the fifth. Those people can be lied to by unscrupulous politicians with impunity. So, either understand your nation's history or paint a big bullseye on your back and expect to be exploited. It's that simple.