Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Career as a Historian - Part Five

My junior year of college was time to start getting serious about history, and resulted in a couple of changes to my academic program. In fall semester I was slated to take my first upper level history class. I wanted to register for History of Ireland, which at the time was taught by the most senior member in the department, Mr. Walser Allen. Mr. Allen (he did not have a PhD) was easily 70 years old, and I'm sure much older. He had been in the department for a very long time and it was his final year teaching. The class was closed, so I decided to try to add it on the first day of the semester. When I arrived, I found a seminar room made for 25 people was packed with over 40 students wanting to take the class. Obviously there was no getting in and I never got the opportunity to take a class with Walser Allen.

I had registered for a seminar on 20th century Europe with Dr. Michael Seidman, my old Western Civ II professor. The first day of class he took me aside and said that he doubted I was ready for such an intense class. This was a senior level seminar and I had not ever taken an upper level class. Upon this advice I dropped the class and replaced it with US Since 1945 with Dr. Robert Brent Toplin. Dr. Toplin was great. He was a bit absent-minded, but he was a good professor. Like any novice history student, I made some pretty stupid comments in that class over the course of the semester, but the more seasoned upper classmen always made sure to correct me! My friend Carl was in the class with me, which made it very enjoyable. My term paper for that class was about media coverage of the Tet Offensive of January 1968, a topic that I would revisit later in my academic career as well.

Also in the fall semester I found myself back with Frank Ainsley again, this time for Historical Geography of North America. That was a great class, and put me one step closer to making an academic change. I also had American Literature II with Dr. Keith Newlin. While I didn't perform very well in that class, I really did enjoy it. We had to do group projects, and my group was assigned to examine the Beat generation of the 1950s. What a great assignment, especially since I was studying that time period in my history class.

Spring semester I had two history classes. First, I was back with Alan Watson to take his Colonial US History course. A number of friends, including Carl, took that class with me. I did a term paper on religious toleration in colonial Pennsylvania for that class. I also had a class called Practice of History, which was a newly developed historiography class for undergrads. Professors took turns teaching it and that semester it was taught by Dr. Bruce Kinzer, who was the department chair at the time. We had to write a term paper (topic of our choosing) and since I was already researching in the colonial field I chose to write a paper on religious toleration in colonial North Carolina. So that semester was all about religious toleration in colonial America for me.

By this point, I was also President of the UNCW History Club, renamed the Chroniclers. My sophomore year the club almost fell apart. Many of the members had graduated and there was no one to take over the club. My friends Jeff and Carl, and I decided to take the reigns and try to keep the club going, which we did. Jeff served as President that year and then I took over because Jeff was graduating. Bruce Kinzer agreed to be our new faculty advisor for Jeff's tenure, and we then recruited Michael Seidman to take over when I became President.

Finally, in spring of my junior year, I took another (and what turned out to be my final) education course, Instructional Design. The class was supposed to teach us how to write lesson plans. The very first day of class the professor told us that what he was going to teach was what the state required all teachers to be able to do. However, in real life and practice we would never use these skills and would develop our own way to do things. That was the last straw for me. Why was I wasting my time learning things that I would never use? I completed the class, but at the end of my junior year I decided to change course. I dropped out of the Watson School of Education and took on Geography as a double major. I wasn't terribly sure what I'd do when I graduated, but I figured I had time to get that sorted out. I knew that I didn't want to be a teacher and suffer through all those education courses for nothing. I was involved in a lot of different things, including campus recreation and intramural sports, working as a sports official and site supervisor. I thought maybe I'd finish my studies then transition in to that field after graduation. Whatever I did, I knew it wasn't going to involve the public school system.

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