As a kid, I devoured all sorts of history books — at one time, I even read the World Book Encyclopedia cover to cover. And throughout high school, I was a persistent presence in the local library, reading whatever I could find about the ancient Mediterranean world.
Although I was an art major, it surprised
no one that this Picasso enrolled himself in
a Greek civilization class at UNT for the Fall 1997 semester.
Day one arrived, and I took a seat in the back of the classroom, where I could get away with doodling in the margins of my
5-subject notebook should the discussion prove boring. Around me were quiet, well-tanned students, fresh from the summer and perhaps too relaxed for their own good. I laugh knowing now about the hurricane that would soon sweep over us.
The calm ended sharply as the classroom door smashed open and a gruff, deep voice boomed, "Good morning, scholars!" Storming into the room was one of the oldest and shortest men I've ever encountered.
His arms bore a stack of overstuffed manila folders — it was my guess that this stack was as tall as the man himself.
It was hard to judge for sure, because the second he walked into the room, before he ever reached the podium, he was already lecturing.
Pencils scratched furiously and pages flipped violently as we struggled to keep up with the crazy old man. And this continued well beyond the allotted class time — the suffering ended only when we were successful in penetrating the lecturer's oratory and bringing to his attention that class ended five minutes earlier.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was Mr. Edward J. Coomes.
By the end of that first day, I was tired and frustrated. I had illegible notes, a sore writing hand and an exhausted mind.
After the second day, I thought my teacher was eccentric. When in need of a piece of chalk, Mr. Coomes would often fumble instead with a pack of cigarettes without knowing it.
And then there was the debate I had with him that involved Minoan civilization, Atlantis, the element phosphorous, exploding glass tubes, nuclear Armageddon, Wooten Hall, presidential bunkers outside Denton and alien cockroach visitors from Alpha Centauri. I kid you not.
But by the third day, I was hooked. I had moved my seat to the front row. I became accustomed to the pace and soon pondered my own reasons for the events of history (and not just what was written in books).
When I later took Mr. Coomes' Nazi Germany class, I was awestruck at the span of human history and how events far beyond our lifetime influence those of today. His lecture on the Nazis began in 70 A.D. with the Roman writer Tacitus and culminated with the 1945 fall of Berlin only a day before Dead Week that semester.
Despite his eccentric nature and the stress of reading and writing in ways that I had never experienced before, I became addicted to scholarship and cannot wait to be a historian myself.
I hope that my teaching style honors that
of Mr. Coomes: articulate, detailed, full of concern for the whole story and aware of
perspectives besides those of the victors.