Yesterday I talked with my friend, Professor Brady Hutchison. He is so passionate about history and about teaching and is a really nice and interesting person. Enjoy the latest installment in my interview series.
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda (AJP): Hi Brady. I really appreciate your participation in my interview series! Are you ready to talk more about your teaching and love of history?
Professor Brady Hutchison (BH): Thank you for asking me to do this interview. I’m always ready to talk history! Or cats!
AJP: Oh, goodness. Cats. Let’s move on before we both get completely distracted! I wanted to start with this question since it is especially unique to you. Most professors go to college, grad school, and then basically start working in higher ed. You didn’t follow this path, so I was hoping you could tell us about your experiences before teaching?
BH: Well I went off to college and majored in History because I liked it. I had no firm career plans. While in school I applied for a job with the fire department, and they hired me. After I graduated, I decided two degrees were better than one and so I got my M.A. in History, too! I started teaching part time as a side job. Then I transitioned over to law enforcement from the fire service and worked as an arson investigator. Things happen for a reason! I was seriously injured on the job several years ago and forced to take a medical retirement. But I kept on teaching. I think having had a career outside the classroom helps me connect with my students.
AJP: Did anything else draw you to teaching?
BH: It is the family business. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher. My brother is a high school teacher/coach. His wife is an elementary school principal. Last but not least, my wife is a high school social studies teacher. I was kind of the black sheep in the family!
AJP: So it really is in the family! What exactly draws you to history then?
BH: I have my great-grandmother and my grandfather to thank for my love of history. My great-grandmother was born in 1898 and lived to be 96. Her grandfathers were Civil War veterans, and she passed on stories they told her. My grandfather was a World War Two veteran, and he opened up to me about his experiences. I like to know why things happen and I think history gives us some of those answers. History is like one big reality show!
AJP: I love how you have so many interesting and personal connections to the past with your family. How do you bring this passion into the classroom?
BH: Some days are easier than others. What I try to do is work as many personal stories from everyday people into my lectures as I think it helps the students connect with the material. I really enjoy seeing the lightbulbs turn on in my students’ heads when they start making connections.
AJP: What are your favorite topics to teach?
BH: The world wars. Not so much the battles, though they are important, but all of the accompanying change they brought. Right now we are in the midst of the 100th anniversary of World War One events. The British have done some incredible things to commemorate it. A World War One tank driving through Trafalgar Square. 60,000 uniformed reenactors at train stations on July 1, 2016, for the Somme anniversary. It’s an exciting time to teach the subject!
Since I really only teach US History surveys, I don’t have much of a chance to cover Russian history outside of the Cold War though I work in as much as I can. I’ve always been fascinated by Russia and even took the time to learn the language. I’m particularly interested in the Revolution and the Soviet experience in World War Two, or as they call it, the Great Patriotic War.
AJP: Are there any authors or texts who or maybe former professors that have particularly influenced your teaching and/or research?
BH: The biggest impact on my teaching is my 12th grade English teacher, Mr. Parks. He brought such energy and enthusiasm to class that you couldn’t help but want to learn. He pushed me to be successful. I can write a semi coherent sentence because of him. I hope I can be half the teacher he was.
I’m a big fan of Max Hastings, the distinguished British military historian. Orlando Figes is another excellent historian who has done incredible work in Russian History. And I have you to thank for educating me about the IWSCP!
AJP: Ah, oh…The Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy or IWSCP and bell hooks. That’s another thing that could have us distracted for hours! If you had to pick one thing, what do you most want your students to remember in ten years?
BH: Everything that happens in the world today has a historical back story. We ignore it at our peril.
AJP: On another note, I know you are also a blogger and have had a few different blogs. Can you tell us about this?
BH: I am a chaotic blogger. I’ll write religiously for a few months, then not write a word for six months! My current blog, Ghosts of the Past, covers a lot of different historical subjects. I think the last post I did was about sports in the radio era. My favorite recent post was about the execution of the Romanovs. In fact, I’m giving a public lecture about that in July at the Deer Park Public Library. I blog under a nome de plum, Lee Hutch. (Hutch is what most people call me.)
AJP: Are you working on any other projects? How is your novel coming? What is it about?
BH: The novel is making slow but steady progress. 15 years or so ago, I had the opportunity to interview several men and women who worked as Firefighters in Germany during World War Two. They were 16-18 years old and survived firebombing raids. My novel is based on their experiences and takes place during a November 1943 raid on Berlin as seen through the eyes of a German firefighter and a British Lancaster pilot. The tentative title is So Others May Live. The first draft should be finished by the end of the summer. I did a series of blog posts which discussed it in a bit more detail and also contained an excerpt. It blends my fire service background with my history background. The research was pretty grueling and parts of it are very tough to write given what I have to describe. But I’m having as much fun as one can with such a somber subject.
AJP: Wow…we’ve covered a lot. Is there anything else you would like to add?
BH: The great Civil War historian Bruce Catton said of our profession “We are the people for whom the past is forever speaking.” That sums up my views on history and teaching better than anything I could ever say myself. Which is probably why he’s famous and I’m not!
AJP: Great. Thanks so much for your time.
BH: Thank you for the opportunity and give my regards to Dr. T!