This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Dr. Dennis Downey, the director of the Honors College, history professor and head of the Multidisciplinary Studies (MDST) Program.
Q: Where are you originally from?
I was born in Alabama but grew up in Chicago with a long residency in Florida.
Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in history?
My friend and mentor, William D. Miller, was a guiding influence in showing me how scholarship can meld with social commitments to make sense of the “human condition.”
Q: From what school(s) have you earned your degree(s) from?
I earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in American studies from Florida State University and a Ph.D. in American intellectual history from Marquette University. Miller taught at both universities.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach at Millersville? Why?
I most enjoy “The History of American Violence” and “The New Era, 1876-1919.” Each poses its own challenges and controversies that have a certain resonance today.
Q: Is there a specific time period in history you are fascinated about?
I would say the “long 19th century.” Historians term this period as taking place from 1820-1920.
Q: What are you interested in researching?
After years of writing about lynching and racial violence among other things, I have moved into the history of disabilities and disability rights. Both topics relate to the phenomenon of ‘the other’ and what it means to be human. I also have an enduring interest in Ireland history and culture.
Q: You are a very accomplished author. Which publication has been your favorite to write about?
I am drawn to narrative history and would say my favorite publications are on lynchings and race. My current project is on the history of Pennhurst and disability rights.
Q: What do you want the students and staff to know about the Honors College at Millersville?
The students make the program and we have an outstanding group that lives the ethos of a community of scholars. I think we set the good example of scholarship, service and fun for PASSHE.
Q: What about the Multidisciplinary program?
MDST is an innovative and sometimes controversial major that allows for individualizing a program of study, and it creates opportunities for new kinds of faculty collaboration.
Q: How do you want students to remember you?
As a nice guy who knew how to bend the rules to best serve students and maintain academic integrity.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
In addition to my wife and children, I read and write, do advocacy work and attend a regular Thursday seminar.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
Many! How about ‘some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic’ (Jimmy Buffett) or W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”? Additionally, the notion that “history is something that happens to people” from Arnold Toynbee.
Q: What is something you absolutely need to get through your day?
My wife’s smile and the kindness of strangers–and some Jimmy Buffett music.
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment?
Longevity and a beautiful family.