History Professor Attends Academic Conference to Master Being Teacher-Scholar
Dr. Willingham works to make history engaging and exciting by using personal research
Dr. Robert Willingham of Roanoke College's history department strives to be both a teacher and a scholar. One of the steps he took towards this was presenting his paper titled "Jewish History as World History" at the Southeast World History Association.
"My paper started as a discussion on how to integrate Jewish history into a survey class," Willingham says. "And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jewish history is also relevant to scholarship."
Willingham, originally an expert on German history, took courses in Nazism and World War II, which sparked his interest in the Holocaust. He believes that the Jewish Diaspora is valuable to history in that Jews live in all parts of the world and have significant roles in many historical events. His respect for scholarship and desire to celebrate the Jewish culture and religion have him playing both scholar and teacher in and out of the classroom.
"Roanoke College is a teaching college, and that's our primary responsibility," Willingham says. "But we expect people to be active scholars, and finding ways to reconcile teaching and scholarship is a high priority."
Willingham says that teaching history in a useful and meaningful way - and not just reciting facts - can be challenging. But his participation in conferences, such as the Southeast World History Association's, helps to make him sharper and better as they are intended for presentations and criticisms.
"My panel was about integrating teaching and scholarship when it comes to world history," he says. "I hear other people's research and people talk about teaching, especially how to reconcile the teacher and scholar."
"I try really hard to bring my research into the classroom," says the teacher-scholar. "We're actually expected to do research and teach at Roanoke. I'm expected to back up what I teach with a degree of scholarly expertise." In order to do so, Willingham has done firsthand research in Leipzig, Germany and has brought back raw archival material, presenting it to his students in lectures. He finds that students respond with excitement when they find that professors have this type of experience.
Willingham received his bachelor's degree in political science and European history from Fort Lewis College, his master's in European history from Purdue University and his doctorate in modern European history from the University of Texas at Austin. He also spent a year studying at the University of Leipzig. Since coming to Roanoke in 2004, Willingham has taught courses on soviet, Jewish and French history, modern Germany and his most well-known course on the Holocaust, which he teaches annually.