In the 'One of a Kind' category
We previously documented history professor Ed Coomes’ unforgettable qualities in an Eagle Tale after his death in 2004, and the colorful professor continues to draw praise from former students. So, our influential faculty award in the “One of a Kind” category goes to the late Ed Coomes, Professor Emeritus of history, 1963-2000. Here’s what readers have to say about him.
When I attended North Texas, I took a medieval class taught by Mr. Ed Coomes and I found his teaching style to be engaging and thoughtful. First and foremost, Mr. Coomes stressed that in order to learn about history, students must first learn the corresponding dates for historical events. But that was only the beginning. He was a demanding teacher. His tests consisted of one essay question phrased this way: “Defend and refute. ...” Thus, he encouraged his students to think beyond a set of facts and events to create two plausible arguments and to thoroughly examine the issues. It was an effective way to teach history and to cultivate the student’s power of reasoning and skill of persuasive writing.
Unlike some classes where the instructor’s method of teaching is simply a straight and narrow path, Mr. Coomes embraced the exploration of the different pathways, of thinking about things from many perspectives. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share a cup of coffee and conversation with Mr. Coomes on a few occasions outside the classroom. I have thought of him many times over the years. I’m sure his influence touched many others along the way as well. — Vicki Stubbs Donkersley (’76,’79 M.A.)
Most graduates of UNT remember one or two outstanding teachers who inspired them and made their lives measurably richer. One such person was the remarkable Ed Coomes.
Not only did Ed have a gigantic intellect, but he had a genuine interest in encouraging his students to openly and fearlessly embrace the world of ideas. He had a magical way of communicating the relevance of historical inquiry. His dynamic “lectures” (which we still recall as less a lecture than “an experience”) made us think deeply about issues and circumstances that we had previously ignored or simply taken for granted.
We met and married while students at UNT in the 1960s. We managed to keep in touch with Professor Coomes even after we moved to Australia in 1972. We had an enthusiastic reunion with him in 1979 when we were in the U.S. on study leave. While we had many excellent teachers at UNT, Ed Coomes, more than any other individual, helped us to appreciate the value of original thought and rejoice in celebrating the life of the mind. We will always be deeply indebted to him and we will never forget him. — Dennis Phillips (’62, ’66 M.A.) and Jebby Prindle Phillips (’66)
I had Ed Coomes for a history class many years ago, and as silly as it sounds, I have never been the same. There are very few classes or teachers whose influence can remain with you for decades, but this man with one single class, over 20 years ago has done just that. He totally turned the concept of history upside down, and has caused me to question the “reality” of history to this day (and also to contemplate how future generations will look at our current times).
Up until that point, I looked at history from the shaded glasses of school textbooks, never considering that truth, reality and history may not always be the same thing. One of my early memories of Mr. Coomes was regarding the movie Urban Cowboy. He asked the class what the most important line in the movie was, and when no one could guess correctly, he described the scene where Debra Winger approaches John Travolta at the bar and asks, “Are you a real cowboy?”
Coomes then let out a loud sarcastic cackle and proceeded to completely debunk the romanticized myth of the “Old West,” informing us that many people that came out West were not the idealized, honest, moralistic loners that we think of as cowboys, but instead were actually criminals, drunks and the fringe of society that could not exist in the civilized cities.
I have never encountered anyone like him before or since, and probably never will. Mr. Coomes was definitely one of a kind. I am sure there are many other students who were equally touched by Mr. Coomes’ enthusiasm and by his unique angle on the realities of history. — Phil Lee (’88)
Perhaps the most surprising influence on me at North Texas was an eccentric history professor named Ed Coomes. After breezing through the first history course with an A, I went against all advice of almost the whole undergraduate population and took Coomes for the second history course — it covered the Civil War or as Coomes referred to it, the War Between the States.
Coomes’ course was offered at a great hour for my schedule and I was going to take history at this hour regardless of who was teaching it. His reputation as a tough eccentric was well deserved. He gave me an F+ on my paper on the causes of the Civil War, but he let me rewrite it. He gave me a D+ on the rewrite. He then explained to me what he expected from me — one of two African Americans students in the class.
I continued to get low marks on all my papers with Coomes. He didn’t want a regurgitation of the facts and penalized me severely for doing so. He always hammered the point that as young people we should question authority and not blindly follow. This point came out frequently in his classroom lectures and discussions. He was relentless in his encouragement of his students to get to the real reason behind events, to read “real newspapers,” to read widely, to listen to opposing views, to think, to question, question, question.
At the time, I could not grasp what all “this” had to do with history. Coomes was trying to make conscientious citizens of his class. I made a D in his course. I didn’t repeat it. I figured I could contrast the previous A in the first course and present a good explanation for the low mark. No prospective employer has ever asked.
Overall, I learned more in Coomes’ class than I did in any other liberal arts class before or since. I’m certain I got a true education in his class, even though my grade indicates otherwise. — Lendell M. Hawley (’80)