Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Eugene Tesdahl

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Pioneer Spotlight
Eugene Tesdahl
May 20, 2016

Dr. Eugene Tesdahl has served as an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since fall 2014. In this position, he offers courses in early America, American women’s history, and Native American history. Tesdahl holds degrees in history from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa; Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Originally from a farm in Clarion, Iowa, Tesdahl lives in Platteville with his wife Jasmine, their daughter Aspen, and son Harvest.

This summer, Tesdahl will deliver the lecture “Alexander Hamilton: ‘Your most Obedient Humble Servant,’” on July 11 at the Carnegie-Stout Library in Dubuque, Iowa, at 6 p.m. In April 2017, he is slated to give a paper on 18th century Mohawk women smugglers and the kinship networks they developed in the eastern Great Lakes at the Organization of American Historians Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

What do you most enjoy about teaching history?

Folklorist Zora Neale Hurston suggested in her 1942 “Dust Tracks on a Road” that “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” This is part of what I love about the vocation of teaching history. My goal is to equip all students with tools of inquiry and research, not necessarily to create historians, museum professionals, or teachers – although I love mentoring all of those students. I am inspired watching students gain those skills and then apply them to fields they love.

What is most challenging about teaching history?

Ojibwe historian Anton Treuer stated, “Still, I love my country. In fact, it is because I love my country that I want to make sure that the mistakes of our past, our dark chapters, do not get repeated.” It can be challenging for students to fully examine and analyze troubling issues of the American past, including issues of chattel slavery or disregard for Native American sovereignty. And yet, it is integral that all consider not only the successes of the American story, but the mistakes as well. It is only with a complete view that a full historical appreciation is reached. In my courses, I challenge my students to strike a balance between the missteps and accomplishments of the American past.

What inspired you to pursue teaching?

Many factors encouraged me to enter teaching. The central influence was that teaching runs in my family, including aunts and uncles, my grandmother, my mother and my sister. No one ever told me what I should pursue, and yet many modeled that teaching at any level was possible. I am the first historian in my family and yet my family has long cherished heritage and history in a way that has always encouraged me.

What research opportunities do your students participate in?

I am a cultural historian and often study and teach anthropology along with history. I include material culture, art, landscape, music and other materials when reconstructing an historical period. I urge students out of the classroom through the field of public history into museums, archives and national parks. My students and I have visited Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa; the Milwaukee Public Museum; and the archives in the Southwest Wisconsin Room at UW-Platteville.

How do you inspire curiosity and a thirst for knowledge in your students?

I demonstrate that learning and teaching do not stop with the classroom. Last year, I presented five public lectures, including two televised on Wisconsin Public Television. I have students examine original 18th and 19th century documents in the Southwest Wisconsin Room. Students often sing period songs to understand how and why people sang and what that could mean. I am known to employ first-person historical interpretation, coming to class as a coureur de bois (unlicensed fur trader of 18th century New France).

Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email pr@uwplatt.edu.

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