As an undergraduate at Hillsdale College, the study of history helped me to see the contingency of my ideas. I realized that I owed debts to the past that I barely understood. After receiving my postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, I returned to my alma mater. Teaching history at Hillsdale has been a genuine privilege and pleasure. Few colleges set history within the context of other disciplines like our Western Heritage course at Hillsdale, and I enjoy teaching it to freshmen. I love introducing students to the great figures in the Western tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Petrarch, Luther, and others. In this course and in the whole Core Curriculum, Hillsdale seeks to initiate students into a conversation about what is true and good.
We respect ancient and medieval traditions of learning but also engage the intellectual and cultural currents of the present in dialogue with the wisdom of the past. As Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child.” If we see ourselves as the destiny of the human race, then even the study of history becomes self-indulgent. If our established views of things are the only standard for examining the past—if we judge before we understand—then it is difficult to learn anything from history. Instead, we must “listen to the dead with our eyes.”