by Zoe Montague ’20
Teaching history was always the plan for PC professor Dr. William Harris. The process of getting there, however, took longer than expected.
Harris lived all over the country in his childhood. Harris’ dad was a historian as well, so he grew up in academics, moving to whatever town housed the university where his father worked.
“I grew up in Indiana. My dad was a professor at Indiana University. Then we moved to Augusta, Georgia when I was in middle school,” Harris said. “He was the college president over at Paine College. I lived there through high school and then my last year we moved to Houston, Texas.”
Finding His Focus
Harris began his college career at Morehouse College, then finished at Alabama State University. He then went on to get a master’s degree in history at both the University of Akron in 2002 and Cornell University in 2005.
“I was more interested in civil rights and student activism in the 60s, so that’s what drew me to history, but then I shifted,” Harris said. “I knew that there was something special about Mississippi, so I went a hundred years earlier to try to figure out what Mississippi was like during slavery.”
In 2015, Harris received his Ph.D. in history from Cornell. His dissertation focused on slave life in antebellum Mississippi. While finishing his Ph.D., Harris also taught classes at nearby colleges and raised his children.
“I taught for five years before getting a tenure-track position so hopefully it shows in the classroom,” Harris said.
Knowing His Students
Coming to teach at PC was a no-brainer, according to Harris.
“I like the ability to get to know my students,” he said. “My family is here, I have family in Sumter. My kids can see their grandparents more than twice a year now.”
As a professor with a focus on American history and African-American history, Harris has learned how to sell a class to get students interested.
“Titles matter,” Harris said. “My ‘Race and Violence’ class jumps at people. I’ve had 19 students in that class this semester and they’re really engaged. They’re asking questions, they are reading the material and thinking about it.”
To Harris, having so many engaged students is important, especially in an African-American history class.
“These classes are necessary at PC,” Harris said. “You can’t learn South Carolina or US history without considering the place of African-American history.”
The favorite topic of students is typically the civil rights movement.
“Students like to hear about it [the civil rights] because they are the age of the kids that took charge of much of the civil rights movement, so it’s relatable,” Harris said.
Celebrating Students’ Uniqueness
Harris also serves as the faculty advisor to the Multicultural Student Union (MSU) at PC.
“Ideally MSU provides a space for students of color and other groups of people to have their own space and their own sense of belonging, not separate from the campus but one that celebrates their sense of uniqueness,” Harris said.
The club holds a variety of programs such as discussion groups, dinners and bonding experiences.
PC’s History Department was ranked the #1 Best Value in the US by College Factual. Check out the History Department to see what opportunities could be in store for you if you major in history at PC.