Professor of History
History / Academic
- Sherman Hall 303
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 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 understand how you know it. That means learning how to investigate for yourself.
I’ve been teaching at Austin College for more than 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 literature, philosophy, religion, art, music, and science from past times. I mostly teach European history from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. I’ve also taught courses on US intellectual history, environmental history, the history of medicine, 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 332 “Renaissance and Reformation”
- History 331 “Medieval Europe”
- History 250 “The Heritage of European Thought” (Foundation Writing Course)
- 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 an age of revolution. A lot of my research has focused on the history of the life sciences in this period, 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,” “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations,” and “Of National Characters.” 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, 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.
- “‘A Steady Contempt of Life’: Suicide Narratives in Hume and Others.” Journal of Scottish Philosophy 10 (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
- “The Natural History of Heaven and the Historical Proofs of Christianity: La Palingénésie philosophique pf Charles Bonnet.” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 308 (1993): 233-55
I’m also involved with several interdisciplinary groups. The one that’s dearest to my heart is the Western Intellectual Tradition program. WIT offers a minor on major works – great books, great art, great 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.