Dean of Humanities/Professor of History
History / Academic
- Sherman Hall 102
A.B., M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
What is history? Henry Ford said it’s more or less bunk. Voltaire said it’s a pack of tricks we play on the dead. I’ll say it’s an investigation. Historians know things about the past because we’ve dug up evidence and we’ve had debates about what the evidence means. You can do that, too, and you really should. You can only know something about the past if you have a pretty good idea of how you know it, and you can only have that if you do a little investigating for yourself.
I’ve been teaching at Austin College for almost twenty years. I like to teach by discussion in a small classroom, and I like to bring in the broadest possible range of evidence, including the literature, philosophy, religion, art, music, and science of past times. I mostly teach European history from the Renaissance to the French Revolution. I’ve also taught courses on Medieval Europe, women’s history, environmental history, and the history of suicide. Historians – and history students – get to investigate anything that’s ever happened anywhere. History is everything.
- History 350 “Darwin”
- History 333 “Enlightenment and Revolutions”
- History 250 “US Intellectual History”
- History 250 “History of Medicine”
- History 133 “Europe and the World to 1500”
I do research on the history of ideas in eighteenth-century Europe. We call this the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, but it was also an age of sentiment, an age of material progress, and in the end an age of revolution. A lot of my research has focused on the history of the life sciences in this period (I’d say biology, but the word hadn’t been invented yet), including the work of the experimental naturalist and philosopher Charles Bonnet. More recently, I’ve been studying the great philosopher and historian David Hume, and especially his essays, such as “Of Suicide” and “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations.” What I like about Bonnet and Hume is that they were both broad-ranging thinkers who wanted to know what the methods of science could teach us about human nature and human society. They lived in a time when biology, economics, and psychology (as we now call them) were deeply interconnected subjects, and often studied by the same people. That was still true in Darwin’s time, and I’d like to do some work on Darwin, as well, before too long.
- Curriculum Vitae
- “‘A Steady Contempt of Life’: Suicide Narratives in Hume and Others.” Journal of Scottish Philosophy 10, no. 1 (2012): 51-68
- “Harmony, Structure, and Force in the Essai analytique sur les facultés de l’âme of Charles Bonnet.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 31 (1995): 34-50
I’m currently serving as Dean of Humanities at Austin College. The Humanities division includes the departments of Art and Art History; Classical and Modern Languages; Communication, Media Studies, and Theatre; English; History; Music; Philosophy; and Religious Studies.
I’m also involved in one way or another with several interdisciplinary groups. The one that’s dearest to my heart is the Western Intellectual Tradition program. WIT offers a minor that brings together courses that study major works – great books, great works of art and music – from the period before 1800. We’re talking Plato, Augustine, Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, Shakespeare, and Mozart. It doesn’t get any better than that. Check it out.