Dr. Douglas R. Burgess joined Yeshiva University’s history department in fall 2010, following postdoctoral fellowships at Eugene Lang College at The New School for Social Research and New York Historical Society. He obtained his JD from Cornell University and PhD from Brown University. He teaches history courses at both Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women. He grew up in Newport, RI, where his family still resides.
1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member?
Prior to coming to YU, I spent one year in a postdoctoral fellowship at the New School for Social Research. Before that I was a graduate student at Brown University, but living mostly abroad in such places as London, Auckland, NZ, and (last, but certainly not least) Austin, TX.
2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
My favorite part of the job will always be the students. Class instruction is really a dialogue between instructor and student, which means that at the end of the day it can only be successful if both parties are equally committed. From my first day at YU, I have been impressed and encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by the students, and their dedication not only to academic success but to intellectual fulfillment.
3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I seriously considered becoming an admiralty attorney [which is a lawyer who deals primarily with maritime questions and offenses], and even went so far as to gain a JD, but that was as far as it got. I am still a believer in having multiple careers, and try to keep my hand in some legal issues I feel particularly strongly about. I also would have loved to have been an oceanographic researcher, but I’m terrible at math and science!
4. What is your goal as an historian, and what is your goal as a teacher?
My goal both as an historian and teacher is to convince students that the past is never past, but still very much part of their lives today. I have always been drawn more to ongoing evolutions than single events or people, because it is easier to see oneself within the narrative. Related to this, I believe the study of history informs one’s character in a way unlike any other discipline. It is not so fashionable now to speak of “civic virtue,” but that is really what becoming an adult means: understanding and adopting those customs and mores that allow for full participation in the community. History is invaluable for this, as it demonstrates how that community came to be, and perhaps where it’s headed.
5. What would your current and former YU students be surprised to learn about you?
I grew up on a motor yacht, which I guess is pretty unusual. It was mostly in NY and RI, but we sailed it to Bermuda, Florida and even the Caribbean a few times. Later on I raced in the Bermuda Cup from Newport, RI, to Hamilton, Bermuda – but I never won!