Stepping into the office of Dr. James Newsom, senior lecturer in history at The University of Texas at Tyler, one will find more than just an impressive collection of history books.
Nestled in and above bookshelves are toys, but not any kind of toys: Toys that bring history to life. Aside from collecting books, Newsom collects historic political figurines, hats, as well as miniature military aircraft and vehicles.
But it’s his passion for both history and teaching that come into play.
“Some might call it a draw or even an obsession,” Newsom said with a laugh. “The books for history especially, are the tools we use, like a mechanic would use tools on a car. The more of the figures and the planes and military vehicles I collected the more students asked questions."
"They would discuss the toy and that would allow a deeper discussion of history topics. The toys can lead to the books which lead to scholarship – which is what we’re here for.”
At UT Tyler, Newsom primarily teaches freshman U.S. history classes, with the occasional senior-level course.
“I love teaching it all,” Newsom said. “One of the benefits in teaching freshman survey classes is that you get to look at the broad spectrum. I just enjoy and have a passion for the past, especially biography.”
“History is not about just dates and places, but about great people doing great things when called upon. If you can pass that passion on to students then they can develop a love for history,” he added.
Newsom wears his hats during various discussions in his freshman classes. Period music from the time sets the mood.
“The students enjoy it,” Newsom said. “It helps them get interested and stay excited about history.”
By showing the human side of history, both in and outside of the classroom, Newsom hopes a ‘boring’ history class is a thing of the past.
Newsom serves as faculty sponsor for the Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, an organization dedicated to the student involvement in history projects and campus life.
A native of Dayton, Texas, Newsom holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from UT Tyler as well as a Ph.D. from Texas Christian University. He and his wife Tonya recently celebrated the birth of their daughter, Madison.
One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.