Macon State College MVPs is a web feature that profiles notable students, alumni, faculty and staff.
Full Name: Jeffrey David Burson.
Originally From: “It’s kind of hard to pin that down because we moved so much when I was a kid. My dad was in the Navy, so I guess I’m ‘originally’ from Pensacola, but as a child, I lived in Dallas, a ‘burb outside of Minneapolis called Eden Prairie, and I grew up mostly in a small town called Brighton, Mich., just west of Detroit and 25 miles from Ann Arbor. But really, about nine generations of my family are from Western Ohio (that’s the long, flat, endless nothingness along I-75 between Cincinnati and Detroit for those of you that know it from the soul crushing boredom you might once have endured on a family vacation up north or something). In a lot of ways, Ohio feels like home because of all those years of family history there.”
Family: “My parents still live in Michigan. My dad is retired from the airlines, and my mom was a schoolteacher for a short while many years ago. I have one sister who lives in Los Angeles and is an actress. She has had a few parts on TV shows, and 3-4 independent films."
Job Title: Assistant professor of history.
Degrees: Bachelor of arts from Concordia University Ann Arbor, interdisciplinary major in history/political science and a minor in English literature; master’s degree from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Year he joined the Macon State faculty: 2007.
Some of his teaching career highlights are: “Publishing my first book with Notre Dame University Press last year and winning the Outstanding Scholarly Activity award in 2009. Another highlight was being a teaching fellow from 2001-2004 at George Washington University while in graduate school. I then taught at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University as an adjunct professor from 2005-2006. My first visiting faculty job was at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., in spring 2007, and in summer 2007, I was hired at Macon State. Honestly, the quintessential ‘highlight’ of my teaching career happens whenever a student tells me, or e-mails me to tell me, that something about my course really meant something to them, and changed the way they understood or looked at world history. Teaching is often little-understood in the public sphere these days, and we all live and breathe this stuff as a life’s work because we care about public service and lifelong learning. Everything we do as faculty has the well-being of our students and of the college in mind, and it is spectacular to know that truly-meaningful learning has occurred in a way that students might always be able to take with them.”
His favorite course to teach is … “I have to pick just one? I suppose I would have to say my class on Old Regime France and the one on the French Revolution – both of which intersect directly with my research interests and training, and they just flow well. Students really take to them well. I like the French Revolution one especially well, because it touches on so many issues that are at the heart of historical philosophy – questions such as how little, long-term causes coalesce suddenly into gigantic, revolutionary movements that take on a life of their own. The French Revolution class (like so many history courses, really) forces students to think about how individuals are determined by their social and political cultures on the one hand, and yet individual acts of will gradually (sometimes quite suddenly) turn into ‘game-changers.’ I will be teaching a class on the Enlightenment soon, and that one is likely to be a new favorite, though, because it is exactly in my field of study. But another of my favorite courses is actually World History to 1650, and paradoxically because it is most challenging for me. Trying to say anything coherent or meaningful about 6,000 years of history on seven continents, without being trite, telling only one side of the story, or treating like a list of random events is a challenge. The challenge is greater insofar as students often come to us from high school with nothing but a little bit of American history, so teaching college-level world history is somewhat like starting students with trigonometry when they haven’t had more than basic addition. Accordingly, I often learn as much as they do, both about the diversity of student learning styles, and about areas of the globe that I have to re-learn and present anew.”
One thing people don’t know about him is … “Since I’m allergic to all haired critters (dogs, cats, hamsters), my only pet as a kid was a salamander I named Alex. I rescued him from a little hole in my parents’ lawn, to care of him until he got better. He didn’t live long (maybe two or three years until I graduated from high school). It was really kind of sad because I tried extremely hard to be a good ‘stepdad.’ This is not precisely instinctive for a human.”
In his spare time he likes to … “There isn’t a lot of spare time for us profs, but I like to write, go to music concerts in Macon and in Atlanta, go to the gym and run or lift weights. I also like golf, parasailing, hiking, traveling, and eating as much Indian or Greek food as I can find. Sleep is fun hobby, albeit too rare sometimes.”
The one person he’d most like to meet is … “Well, given that I study dead people for a living, I can think of dozens of historical figures I’d want to meet for different reasons. It would be impossible for me to select one, and even if I did so, it would be on largely arbitrary grounds, and then I’d just end up wanting to pick someone else for other equally defensible and/or indefensible reasons. So I’ll plead the fifth concerning the dead people. Of living people, I might be inclined to pick former President Carter. Whatever your politics may be, you have to admire anyone who has a life-long commitment to taking what he or she has in life, however small or uncommon, or however fortunate, and then decides to use it to do what he or she knows is right, what he or she knows will make another’s life a little easier, better, more rewarding, etc. I like that aspect of Carter’s career especially. His post-presidency shows that no matter what one achieves or doesn’t, it’s never over. But the fact is there are millions of exemplary people like that throughout the world’s history, most of whom you would never hear much about. History makes us, but individuals who are often never given credit for the little things they do are, as often as not, those who really change the course of human affairs with glacial and significant velocity through the years. You just never know, and sometimes what is most incredible about the study of history is the chance to revive those voices that made it happen but are not given the credit they really deserved.”
If he wasn’t a college professor he would be a … “It never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t be a college professor once I had determined to do it. But, I suppose if I had had my first of second choices (or second of first choices), I’d be a novelist. That would be a heck of a lot of fun, because I love to write!”