Chad Israelson: The Importance of History

History instructor Chad Israelson is infatuated with the past. He’s able to not only grasp what came before and put it forth with real vigor and make it real, but explain how an event from the Roman Empire ties into current American politics. Political history isn’t Israelson’s only forte. He is also a noted lover of Bob Dylan, having co-written a book on the musician, and even teaches a history class focusing on rock and roll. Below is a bit more about the instructor and what he’s up to.

What are you currently teaching? 

Right now, I have U.S. History (1865-Present) that’s split into two halves, Western Civilization (I: Ancient Times to 1715), an online class, and History of the Rock and Roll Era. In the history department we have an incredibly wide variety of classes. It’s one of the nice things about teaching at RCTC, is that I’ve been able to be very broad. So, I can do entire U.S. history, entire Western Civilization, we have an entire section of world history, Minnesota history, a class on rock and roll, and the presidents. So, it allows for students, who have an interest in just about anything, to find something that they want to learn about. (Israelson will be going on sabbatical next semester to work on more active learning opportunities and assessment techniques. He wants students to work on a project where they create and follow an identity throughout a course to see how history would impact them. The idea is that history is the study of identity.)

What are some specific things in those courses you like teaching?

Rock and roll history I’m going to focus on Bob Dylan a little bit more – I’ve got a little bit more of expertise on him. But you don’t want to weigh it so heavily it becomes a Bob Dylan section, because that wouldn’t be right either. I really do like post-war America; I find that fascinating. But what I also love in my Western Civilization class is going back to the 15, 1600s. And the thing, no matter what time period, I try to get across to students, is to look for similarities – even if it’s 2,000 years ago to the present. I just finished up the Roman period for example, and one of my assignments was what similarities do you see between ancient Rome and present day. To me, if you’re not making it relevant then it’s just sort of trivia. And that’s nice for board games or if you get on TV to play “Jeopardy!” History is useful when it teaches you about the present.

What can I do with history here? 

If you’re really interested in history and attending RCTC, first thing I’d tell you is take as many of our history classes as you can. And then you’re going to be looking at transferring that to a four-year institution. And you can go a number of ways. I know some of the local four-year universities have a paralegal that goes through the history department. You can go into teaching, museum work, any number of things along those lines.

Great Colosseum, Rome, Italy.

What are some historical events you like personally? 

If I were to focus on post-war America, one of the things I really like students to understand is we had this massive explosion within society that was both population – baby boom – and economic. How much of that post-war America we are still participating in today? Television comes in, the computer is invented. That sort of stuff. But then if you take it a step further and start talking about the ‘20s, well, that’s when mass media starts. That’s the celebrity culture beginning. We’ve got radios as our home entertainment. Every class you find those turning points. If students can hang their hats on something, like, ‘Oh, that connects to me today,’ that’s when it becomes interesting.

(One thing we asked Israelson recently for another article is the importance of voting. While the latest chance to vote has come and gone, his words still remain as important as ever.)

How important is it to vote? 

It’s very important, especially locally. 20 years ago, I would have paid much more attention to the national politics than I did local. But more and more I’ve begun to realize that local politics are the things that affect our lives. If we’re in education, it matters who controls the governor’s seat, and it matters who controls the Minnesota House and Senate. Minnesota is the best state in the union – almost every single election we have the highest [voter] turnout. And that’s great, but when you still consider how many people sit it out… it’s the kind of thing that within the last 60 years people were being killed just to register to vote. We need to remember how much people fought for that, whether it’s women or African Americans. To not drive a few blocks away or whatever and exercise that, to me, is unacceptable.

And in our political state of affairs right now, it seems like every election matters. They are vital right now. Whatever you do, don’t place your vote on any of the TV ads. That’s all nonsense.

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