Where I lead: teaching history

Dr. Richard Byers
Professor of history. A native of Adelaide, Australia

Received UNG’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2014.

His book, “Flying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation,” will be out this fall with Texas A&M University Press.

Q: What is your motivation to make history your life’s work?

A: Understanding the connections – between the past and the present, across cultures, across societies – and my desire to try to gain an understanding of our world was what motivated me to become a historian.

I really want my students to understand those connections and the importance of them. Long after they have forgotten most of the specifics, if they retain an understanding of the importance of these relationships and connections, then I feel that we’ve left them with a lasting appreciation, which is valuable.

They can look up dates and facts on their phone, but understanding those larger connections isn’t something they can necessarily Google.

Q: Students often recommend your classes as “must take.” What is your secret?

A: To me, at the introductory level where most of the students see me, the college-level course is designed to introduce them to basic content knowledge that we hope they will use as they go on and to prepare them for the rigor of a college degree.

It’s important that we prepare them in every possible way that we can, and part of that preparation involves being realistic about the academic and scholarly challenges that lie ahead of them.

Q: You’ve been involved in the creation of e-textbooks, started the UNG Wikipedia Editing Project and cofounded and co-edited Etudes Historiques, the UNG Undergraduate Research Journal in History. Why are these projects important?

A: It’s important that we foster a culture of innovation within the university, not only in terms of research, but in terms of the way we teach and the connections between our roles as scholars and as teachers.

The digital projects reflect my interest in making students aware of digital resources that are out there, but also giving them the opportunity to develop skill sets that will be useful to them well beyond their college career. Employers increasingly want to see tangible evidence of students’ proficiency beyond just the fact that they’ve been awarded a degree, so many of these projects incorporate undergraduate scholarship and research opportunities.

Q: What is your next project?

A: I’ll be starting the proposal for my next book, which will also look at the development of German aviation in the 20th century, particularly its role in World War II.

UNG has also recently established a partnership with the World War II Museum in New Orleans, and, in summer 2017, we’re looking to begin study abroad programs in Europe and Asia based on the museum’s tours. We’re also looking at developing alumni tours to places like Normandy and Pearl Harbor. We’re very excited about this and we believe the university will benefit on all levels from this partnership.