Tim Williams: A Timely Appointment

After serving as a visiting faculty member in the honors college for three years, Tim Williams joins the college’s permanent faculty beginning this fall. His academic areas include the Civil War era, the 19th Century United States, Gender and Sexuality, and the American South.


Tim WilliamsWhy is the CHC a great fit for you as a teacher?

My previous experiences have taught me how important it is to use my own enthusiasm for learning to bring out class discussions based around students’ own questioning, their natural curiosity. What matters most to students is often not the content I teach, though it is certainly important, but how that content relates to students’ lives developmentally — who they are and who they want to become. Honors college students are a joy to teach, not just as students but as maturing and developing adults. I value office hours a great deal and see so many ideas and skills click with students in these one-on-one meetings.

Why do you do what you do?

I’m motivated to research US history — and teach it — out of a deep sense of moral obligation. Our world’s rapid technological advancements, unprecedented demographic growth, divisions among peoples, and lately disdain for “truth” and “facts” compels me to work hard in both the research and writing of the American past, but also teaching students not what to think, but how to think. CHC classes are great sites for this sort of education! They present unique opportunities to foster productive discourse; to teach students how to speak with one another, not over one another; to engage in face-to- face discussions; to listen; and to practice empathy, which we need in abundance right now. All of these things are possible in small classes where no one is anonymous, where no one can hide behind digital screens.

How are the topics you teach in class going to prepare students for life outside of the classroom?

This is a great question for scholars of the Civil War era right now! Never before have I seen so much media attention devoted to the Civil War, the Confederacy, and war memorialization than I have in the past weeks. A lot of what I teach reinforces how America’s past, or memory of the past, provides a foundation to unpack complex discussions today, from debates about the Confederate  ag and monuments, to racial violence in Ferguson, Charleston, Charlottesville, and right here in Oregon.


Class Highlight:

Nationalism and Regionalism in US History

Professor Williams teaches this course as part of the social science series that all honors college students must complete.

The 2016 national election cycle showcased, dramatically at times, competing visions for the meaning of the American nation and citizenship. In order to understand these complex, competing, and often painfully ahistorical visions, we must consider their origins.

In this class we’ll ask big questions about American nationalism, its history and its contemporary uses: What is a nation? How does nationalism work? How and why did ideas about nationalism change over time?

We will begin the class by studying the origins of nationalism in the modern era through Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, a work of lasting theoretical and historical significance. We will then apply Anderson’s theories to various instances of nation building, destroying, and re-making in the United States. In the process, we will explore important themes that in uence our political culture today, including slavery and race, immigration, ethnicity, nativism, regional identity, and gender and sexual orientation.

Primary source literature will pull from old newspapers, slave narratives, and fiction. Students in past courses have especially enjoyed reading excerpts from Colin Woodard’s American Nations, which posits that the US really consists of eleven nations, and Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, which was the first autobiography written by a fugitive slave.


Scholarly Note: 

autograph bookMy current research deals with Civil War prisoners and the ways that they and prisons shaped the postwar nation. In conducting archival research for this project, I was really surprised to discover that these prisoners kept autograph books to remember one another after the war. What was more surprising was that some of the men who signed the autograph books appended to their signatures poetry that they composed while in prison! This poetry is teaching me a lot about the formation of wartime memory.

This photograph shows one autograph book from a Confederate Prisoner of War, held captive in Johnson’s Island Prison, Sandusky, Ohio.


Intellectual Manhood

INTELLECTUAL MANHOOD: UNIVERSITY, SELF, AND SOCIETY IN THE ANTEBELLUM SOUTH

BY TIM WILLIAMS (UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS, 2015)

A look at antebellum southern higher education and its role in fostering a growing world of intellectualism flexible enough to marry the era’s middle-class value system to the honor-bound worldview of the southern gentry. This is the story of education and manhood at the University of North Carolina, the nation’s first public university.

Prison Pens

PRISON PENS: GENDER, MEMORY, AND IMPRISONMENT IN THE WRITINGS OF MOLLIE SCOLLAY AND WASH NELSON, 1863–1866

BY TIM WILLIAMS AND EVAN KUTZLER (UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA PRESS, 2018)

The memoir of a Confederate POW and the letters he exchanged with his fiancée during the Civil War, these letters provide rare insight into a world of intimacy, despair, loss, and reunion. The story is personal and political, revealing the daily life of those living in the Confederacy.