Dr. Robin West, Assistant Professor of History at Madisonville Community College, was elected last fall as KATH’s new representative for Kentucky community and technical colleges. We asked him to tell us more about himself and let the KATH membership know more about him.
What is your current school and alma mater/s: Faculty member at Madisonville Community College since 2011; PhD, Indiana State University; BA, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
What are your fields of interest: The American Revolutionary Era and Constitutional history; African-American History; 19th Century European “Isms” and their relationship to WWI & WWII.
When did you first develop an interest in history? While I have had some amazing history teachers in my life, I attribute my interest in history to my Mom. As a young boy growing up in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Mom often took me to the home of Henry S. Lane and the Lew Wallace study. I remember the sense of awe I felt walking through these places as I gazed in wonderment upon all the things that seemed so old. These were my first experiences with things historical and seeing them stimulated a fascination and love for history that continues to inspire the same sense of wonderment that I felt as a young child.
How have your interests changed since graduate school? This is a hard question given that I never really focused on any one topic or issue to begin with. That said, I think there are two areas that I have given more attention to in my reading and teaching in more recent years. Prior to coming to MCC, I had the opportunity to teach a humanities course, The Humanities in the Western Tradition. This is when I fell in love with the humanities and first began to see the connection between the events of history and the products of history. It was fascinating to see how philosophy, literature, religion, art, architecture, music, history and language represented a cultural expression of the experiences of different civilizations. The humanities, if you will, allowed me (and my students) to feel a sense of connection to those who have come before us and, our contemporaries as well. Over the past several years I have also become very interested in the relationship between ideas and the events of history. In particular, the isms of the 19th century and the coming of the World Wars is an area of focus. I like to tell my students, that “ideas and theories become experiments when removed from the written page and are implemented in the real world of human events;” and sometimes, as WWI and WWII demonstrated, experiments can have tragic consequences. As a teacher of history, I think it absolutely critical that my students see and understand the connection between the abstract world of ideas and theories to the concrete events of history.
What projects are you working on currently? Because my primary focus is teaching, most projects that I am working on involve implementing innovative teaching methodologies into the classroom. Right now I am on the first go round of implementing the “flipped classroom” approach in my History of Europe: Mid-17th Century to the Present. It is a work in progress.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc., that you could recommend to fellow KATH members? I guess I could have included this in the changing interests section, but I didn’t. In times past, I have never been overly interested in the American Civil War; during the past two years that has changed. I would like to recommend three books to my fellow historians: Freedom’s Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War by Guy Gugliotta; Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle; and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. You will find all three of these books hard to put down; they provide three outstanding examples of the way history should be written.
Any final thoughts?
“How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!” Thomas Jefferson
“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” Daniel Webster