As I passed through the set of double doors of Lecture Hall 24 in Gladfelter Hall, the first thing I saw was a small, gray-haired man with large thick-framed glasses.
He was bopping his head to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the way he would at the beginning of every class for the next 15 weeks.
It was the very first class I stepped foot in my freshman year at here, and while I know I was feeling anxious, I distinctly remember thinking, “If I have to take a history class, I’m glad it’s this one.”
Professor Bryant Simon’s standard lecture course put me on a path that I had never envisioned for myself. I never once considered taking a history course for fun, but suddenly after that first class I was filling my schedule with as many history electives as possible.
My experience with Temple’s history department only grew more and more positive over the years, but my decision to start seriously thinking about history came after one particular lecture from Professor Ralph Young during my Recent American History course in Spring 2014.
I had taken U.S. History until 1877 with Young and noticed his knack for making topics I found incredibly boring, (the colonization of America, the Civil War, etc.), incredibly interesting. So, I opted to take a class of his a second time.
We had reached a point in the semester where we were discussing World War II, specifically the effect of D-Day on Americans fighting in the war and at home, and in the midst of the discussion, Professor Young became serious – flashing through a slideshow of his personal photos of Normandy Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery.
He began into a story about his Uncle Cyril, who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, decided to enlist in the army. His uncle, he told us, engaged in an argument with his brother, Professor Young’s father, and did not resolve the fight before he left for Europe.
Eventually his Uncle Cyril was killed in France, shortly after storming the beach at Normandy.
My class sat in dead silence listening to Young explaining his visit to his uncle’s grave in the late 70s, tears welling in his eyes, voice shaking with raw emotion he still felt telling the story of how his uncle’s death impacted his relationship with his father, who became distant in the years after the war.
He described the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below, the smell of the grass and the emotion he felt as he approached the grave of the uncle he never really knew.
This story, among many others that Young told, showed me that history is much more than analyzing and uncovering the events of the past. Textbooks can teach us things like how many casualties occurred during World War II and when FDR enacted his New Deal.
They cannot teach us how the death of one American soldier fighting at Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, affected the relationship of a father and his young son decades down the road.
I entered the SMC advising office a few weeks after hearing Professor Young’s story to talk with my adviser about the gen-eds I still needed to take, the journalism track I may want to pursue, but most importantly, to discuss the requirements for my new minor – history.
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.