History Professor Jim Davis to hold lunchtime lecture with photos in October
A Mt. San Jacinto College professor will be able to provide his students with a better understanding of India after he spent time in the country as a National Endowment for the Humanities summer scholar.
Jim Davis, who teaches history and humanities at MSJC, spent a hot and humid five weeks in India traveling, listening to lectures, attending seminars and photographing his journey thanks to a grant from the federal agency.
“I had high expectations and they were met. We were exposed to an incredible array of people,” Davis said. “I can now tell personal stories about some of the things I teach.”
The NEH supports seminars and institutes at colleges, universities and cultural institutions. Through a grant award, educators are given the unique opportunity to study with experts in humanities disciplines. The aim of the NEH program is to prepare summer scholars to return to their classrooms with a deeper knowledge in key fields of the humanities.
A fulltime faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto College for 18 years, Davis teaches 10 history and humanities courses every academic year.
The NEH award is the ninth federally-funded grant that Davis has received but it is the first one he has attended outside the United States. A prior NEH program in Honolulu allowed Davis to develop a new course based on the history of Pearl Harbor. Another trip prompted him to create a course about New England Transcendental Meditation.
During his India trip, Davis snapped photos of everything from the Taj Mahal to street scenes depicting daily life in the country. He said he took more than 1,000 photographs and has already earmarked some to use in the classroom.
“Photos add a dimension to my teaching that’s very valuable,” he said.
Davis said he was honored to meet Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mohandas Gandhi. Tushar Gandhi led the group to the assassination site where Gandhi fell on January 30, 1948. At the site, Davis said he was touched to see schoolchildren in their uniforms, learning for the first time about the rich legacy of one of India's founding figures.
“The sustained interest in Gandhi reminds us that India produced a generation of impressive political founders, statesmen, and essayists, not terribly unlike the generation that founded the United States over 200 years ago,” he said.
Davis said it is important for him to offer courses that relate to the reality of his students’ lives. He has written curriculum for many new classes, including world history that encompasses Latin America and Asia. He believes these are places that will most likely impact his students’ futures – personally and professionally – so it’s important they learn about it.
“India is a surprisingly open country,” said Davis. He said this allowed for guest speakers to talk freely about politics and the importance of strengthening India’s relations with America.
Davis’ students study economics, sociology and even the relationship between politics and American motion pictures through his course on the cultural history of American pictures. One of his humanities classes provides an introduction to world cinema as a way to explore culture, nationalities, ethnicities and historical periods.
“When I first came here, the only real history being taught was western civilization,” said Davis, who was an Air Force historian at March Air Force Base in Riverside prior to teaching.
He said he became committed to the subject of history when he was a college sophomore.
“What drove me to it is that I have a broad interest in almost everything,” he explained. “I like music, food, the military, art and literature. With history I can cover all that. As long as it happened yesterday – or before – I can teach about it. Every other subject looked so limiting.”
Davis was raised in the Bay Area and received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. He credits his longevity at MSJC to being allowed to develop new courses and not feeling boxed in.
“It is very rare to have that kind of freedom. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done here at a university,” he said.
Davis will share his impressions and photographic images of India during an informal brown bag lunch presentation on Oct. 6 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in room 805 of the Learning Resource Center at MSJC’s Menifee Valley Campus at 28237 La Piedra Road. The event is free and open to the public.
Streets in Benares India bustle with business
A bull wanders through the shops in India