Some of the instructors who teach for us have groupies – students who will take anything from a teacher because he/she is great all the time. Newell Boyd falls into this category. He makes everything interesting, especially in his primary fields of Victorian Britain and the British Empire. He has taught non-credit history classes for more than 10 years, and also teaches graduate students in our Master of Liberal Studies degree program. In previous years he directed another local master of liberal arts program.
We asked Dr. Boyd to discuss his series of “Profiles from the Past” non-credit courses and what draws him to the historical figures that he covers in class:
“All three of my “Profiles from the Past” courses are modified versions of master’s level liberal studies courses I’ve taught for 20 years, or more. Whether the students have been in a graduate seminar or in a Continuing Studies course, their responses have always been in the wonderment of discovery — the discovery of the commonality of human experience. Historians have long discovered that students respond most avidly to studying about other human beings. Though is it true that few of us will ever be kings or queens, commanders or conquerors, or, poets and philosophers. What we all shall be — those of us who have ever lived — is human. Amidst our bewildering diversity, there is always the common thread, and interest in discovering that common thread in famous (or, not so famous) figures from the past. We all live only finite lifetimes but reading about persons living in other times can inform us, or, as said Plutarch in his Histories written the first century of the Common Era, ‘the virtues of these great men serve me as a sort of looking glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life.’ ‘Thus, I am enabled,’ he went on to say, ‘to free myself from any ignoble, base, or vicious impressions, contracted from the contagion of ill company that I may be unavoidably engaged in; by the remedy of turning my thoughts in a happy and calm temper to view these noble examples.’
“There is certainly a place in history for the study of intricate analytical and philosophical interpretations, but my experience has been that the study of ‘lives’ is longer lasting. And, I relate with a modicum of humility, these views have led me in recent years to the writing of historical novels to illustrate (hopefully in an entertaining manner) selected lives from the past.”
Indeed, Dr. Boyd has written novels on Josiah Camberwall and James Rankin. His latest course, “More Profiles from the Past: The French Revolution to the Present,” is an afternoon class that starts Thursday, September 15.