Visiting Professor of history Bill Issel will receive the 2014 Award of Merit from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society on Monday, Sept. 29 for his contribution to research, teaching and preservation of San Francisco history. Professor Issel began teaching US history courses at Mills College in 2005.
Describe your journey towards receiving the 2014 Award of Merit from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.
“This is an award that the society makes each year. The award is meant to mark the contribution to research, teaching, and preservation of San Francisco history. [In] the early 1970s I was in charge of hiring new historians at San Francisco State University. As a result I was able to hire three historians between 1970-1990 who make history inclusive in the Bay Area. In the early 1970s [I was also able to] get a grant to launch the San Francisco history fair. [I also] curated an exhibit that marked the opening of the New Main San Francisco Public Library in the Civic Center.”
The Campanil: When did you know that you wanted to study and teach history?
Prof. Bill Issel: I was always interested in history since I was a little kid. I grew up in San Francisco in a very diverse district. [When I was a kid] WWII was going on, so being interested in history was natural. My family was in construction business, [so when I went to college] I thought I would become an electrical engineer. I had to take a required history class. After the first class, I went to see the professor and asked him ‘What kind of things to you have to do to get a job like [this]?’
TC: What is the main message you try to teach students who take your classes?
BI: The main message is to appreciate the humanity of people, living and dead. Treat people with respect and dignity, for history it means to be empathetic. I try to teach historical empathy. The key to learning history is to realize that people in the past are as complicated and complex as people today. Appreciate the complexity of humans. Understand that people make decisions in changing contexts, not controlled contexts. [Understand that] causality, what people do, are all influenced by the economy, social institutions, political arrangements, and cultural repertoire. I teach American History in the context of world trends.
TC: How would you encourage students to take a general history course at Mills?
BI: The benefit of a historical course is that there is interdisciplinary learning where history uses and appreciates ideas [from different fields such as] psychology, anthropology, and sociology. History is not only memorizing dates it is aimed at increasing, enhancing, and applying the full range of human experience. [At Mills, history courses] focus on the United States, Europe, and Asia. Applying a range of history is useful to learn for the present in analyzing complexity and the role of events in human affairs.
The general public may attend the 2014 Award of Merit from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society Awards Luncheon for $150. The reception and silent auction will start at 11 a.m. followed by the Luncheon and Awards Program which begins at noon and ends at 1:30 p.m.