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More Than Memorizing Facts

Ernie FreebergThe UT Department of History has finished another successful year, by any measure. We continue to publish important, fascinating, and award-winning research that deepens our society’s understanding of all that has come before us; our faculty and graduate students have won another round of top national research fellowships, and university teaching and outreach awards; and we continue to engage the community, from high school students to senior citizens, through our many public lectures and forums. A sampling of this success can be found here in our annual newsletter.

Another way to take the measure of the vibrancy of my colleagues is to survey the deep and rich range of courses we offer UT undergraduates every year. Toward that end, consider the catalog.

Though cast in the prim prose of catalog copy, the titles alone suggest the many intellectual adventures we provide. While several courses survey a wide chronological field, others dive deep, exploring samurai culture, the French resistance to fascism, the social history of the bicycle, African-American business history, and the Medieval Game of Thrones. And there’s Dolly Parton’s America, Lynn Sacco’s honors course that has piqued the interest of journalists from Knoxville to Australia. A growing number of courses reflect faculty interest in the history of the body, health, healing, and medicine. Students can explore this through courses on Gender and Medicine in the Middle Ages, Medicine in the Third Reich, Medicine and Healing in the Atlantic World, and Health and Healing in African History.

History, our students come to see, is not just about memorizing facts but learning to consider the many possible answers to big questions—What does the Enlightenment tell us about “the good life”? Where does a university like UT come from, and what is it good for? How have people in other times and places imposed order, fought for justice, celebrated life, and faced death?

Exploring those questions, our students develop greater empathy and build skills in understanding the complex forces that shaped the past; the same ones that continue to shape our world today. Learning to think this way is an essential part of a liberal arts education, and we embrace the opportunity to provide that experience to all of our university’s students.

Ernie Freeberg
Professor and Head
Department of History