It is common knowledge amongst history students at Tufts that Professor David Proctor is pretty cool. I’m currently enrolled in his class “Europe Since 1815” and I’ve been enjoying it so much that I decided to get to know the man behind the lectures. It was a great experience to sit down with Professor Proctor, who is a history buff and a self-professed “Star Trek” nerd, to hear what he had to say about teaching, traveling, and Europe.
GS: Why did you become a professor?
DP: As far back as I can remember, I wanted to teach. Which sounds corny, and a little hokey, but it’s true. I came to Tufts as an undergraduate, got my certification to teach high school. I taught high school for a year and a half: worst experience of my entire life, with few exceptions. (Laughs). I came back to graduate school, started serving as a Teaching Assistant, and that made me realize that college had what I wanted.
GS: So why European history specifically?
DP: I’m not into modern American history. It can be very contentious. European history is much the same way, but we’re a little removed from it, so I think it makes it a little easier to study it with a critical eye. I also think that for understanding the whole notion of Western Civilization, you have to understand how Europe was forged.
GS: What’s your favorite time period in history?
DP: I am supposedly a medievalist, so it’s supposedly the Middle Ages. I also really enjoy the period from the end of World War I up to the beginning of World War II. I think that’s just full of fascinating and very tragic events, but also a very interesting study of human nature and how humanity will respond to crisis and disaster.
GS: If you could choose any figure in history to have dinner with, whom would you choose?
DP: From my medieval background: Constantine I, founder of the Byzantine Empire, to ask him whether he was really a Christian or not. Then I think Winston Churchill. He’s one of the most flawed characters in European history who manages to achieve a legendary status during World War II. Before that he was thought to be just an old, washed-up, irrelevant drunk. How does he see his life? I think that would be a fascinating conversation.
GS: Do you have a favorite historical movie?
DP: The 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities. I think it gives a very interesting portrayal of the French Revolution. Then there’s one other. Patton. I think it’s a great movie. When it came out, pro-Vietnam advocates saw it as this great statement of American patriotism, whereas the anti-war factions saw it as the most powerful statement in recent years against war. The movie itself is complex.
GS: I’ll have to check both of those out. So what is your favorite class that you teach or have taught?
DP: Again, it should be one of the Byzantine ones, because that is my shtick. I enjoy all of my courses, but I really like “Europe Since 1815.” There’s just so many fascinating things that transpire in such a short window of time. It’s a way for me to break out of where my major research focuses and do something that is a little different.
GS: I like it so far.
DP: (Laughs) Good!
GS: What is your favorite place you have traveled?
DP: This is going to sound strange, but I think Montreal.
DP: I know! (Laughs). I know, it’s peculiar. There was something about proximity of Canada to the United States, and the significant differences of culture. I just found it fascinating. I know it’s weird.
GS: Interesting. What is the best book that you have read recently?
DP: It’s a little nerdy: the sixteenth-century version of the Alexander romance of Alexander the Great which I’m reading for my course. But it’s really interesting because it’s a more modern take on the Alexander legend, and there are little snippets of Greek patriotism that are littered in there.
GS: This is going to sound terribly insensitive, but what is your favorite war?
DP: My favorite battle is the Fall of Constantinople, because it’s so tragic. At least, from the Byzantine perspective it’s tragic. From the Turkish perspective, not so much. Then I think the Napoleonic Wars. The Napoleonic Wars are the advent of some new weaponry, and new methods of logistics and military organization. Still very much man versus man: the technology is not as overwhelming as the minds that are actually guiding these forces.
GS: Who’s your favorite captain of the Enterprise?
DP: Captain Kirk. I’m a traditionalist: Captain Kirk, the original series. And then a very close second is Kathryn Janeway, from “Star Trek: Voyager.” That usually gets me some flak from people, because a lot of people don’t like Voyager.
GS: Voyager’s great.
DP: Those are my two favorites.
GS: Don’t listen to the haters.
DP: (Laughs) That’s what I say!
Professor Proctor was very accessible and fun to talk to, and I recommend that all of his students go talk to him about the wonders of sci-fi and Europe!