Q&A with UM History Professor Matthew Downs

Kathy DeanFaculty Q&A, News, Sciences

Knowing the past can help us make sense of the present and plan for the future. That’s just one benefit of studying history, says Dr. Matthew Downs, University of Mobile history professor and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“Studying history will not only help students understand themselves, their community and their world, but it will also provide a set of skills like critical thinking, analytical writing and effective communication. History is an exciting, interesting and adaptable major that fits a number of career and professional paths,” Dr. Downs said.

We asked him about teaching history at a Christian university where students are known by their professors.

Q: We say UM is a place where students can “Know and Be Known.” What does that mean to you?

A: I know my students. I see them in class, they visit me in my office, we pass on the quad, and we chat in the halls. The relationships we’re able to build allow me to meet the needs of my students in ways impossible at larger schools. For example, when an advisee expresses their interest in historical archives, we can work together to create an internship experience that explores that career. It’s one of the reasons I love working at UM.

Q: What is your favorite class to teach?

A: I teach a range of history courses, but my focus is usually on Modern American History. My favorite course has to be World War II, a popular class that I offer regularly. The War was a transformational event in modern history, and it gives me the opportunity to talk about the men and women whose wartime service resulted in an American and Allied victory. My grandfather was a WWII veteran and my grandmother was a “Rosie” Riveter – teaching the class helps me remember my own past as well!

Q: What history degrees are offered at the University of Mobile?

A: We offer a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in History, and students have the option of taking additional courses to become certified to teach history at the secondary level. We also offer a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Public History that provides students with the knowledge, skills and experience to pursue a career in historical interpretation, historic and archival preservation, and museum work. The public history option combines traditional history courses with marketing, public relations and organizational communications courses.

Q: What is something students might not know about you?

A: It’s a poorly guarded secret that I play the banjo. I started as a teenager and took lessons before I went off to college. I love bluegrass, and the banjo is a great stress reliever; I can pick it up at night after a busy day and pluck out a few songs. It’s not uncommon, during the summer, for me to bring the banjo to campus and pick around in my office (with the door closed, of course).