For many people, history is just an academic subject with heavy, boring textbooks and long strings of dates to memorize. The chunk of concrete sitting on the bookshelf in Dr. Clyde Greer’s office represents a side of history that is radically different.
A metal rod sticks through the concrete, part of a wall that enslaved a generation of Germans. When the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989 amid gleeful cries of Berliners, Greer traveled halfway around the world to become a part of history. With a hacksaw, he broke away a chunk of the wall alongside the people who had lived as prisoners in their own land for decades. For Dr. Greer, history is not a collection of facts recorded in dusty textbooks; it’s alive and happening every day.
The passion that drove him around the world to pursue history started on a school field trip as a young boy.
“At seventh grade we had a tradition in our school, having a major field trip from southwestern Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains over to the eastern part of the state,” Greer says. “We visited a civil war museum in Richmond [and also visited] Jamestown and Williamsburg. That was just such a fantastic experience and I realized that ‘this is interesting.’”
His love of history that ignited in seventh grade grew under the instruction of a history professor in community college. After finishing his doctorate at Carnegie-Mellon University, he began sharing his knowledge and passion for history with others by teaching for the University of Maryland on military bases in Italy, Germany and Spain. For three years he faithfully taught and explored the history of Europe.
“Of course, I enjoyed trying to understand how to focus more on U.S. history in my academic training, and I tried to understand European history from being there, and it really was an eye-opening experience,” Greer says.
For him, travel is not just a pastime or a vacation; it is a quest to understand the past, present and future and to see the impact of history on a particular place and people.
“It helped to have historical training to have a grid in the mind, because some people travel and they don’t get anything out of it except the food,” Greer says. “But if you have a grid of where this fits in a chronology, where it fits in relation to other places and times, that makes travel more meaningful. And so having that background made that travel very meaningful.”
His passion for history colors everything he sees. After three years of eagerly pouring himself into his work and absorbing the history and culture of Europe, it was time to come home. Driven by a desire to share his knowledge, he took a teaching position at a Christian junior high school in California and eventually became professor and chairman of the history department at The Master’s College.
Even as he settled down and immersed himself in teaching, his love of history and exploring different places led him to visit almost every California mission and take regular family treks across the United States.
Spending hours behind the wheel driving the length of the country, he visited a wealth of historical sites including Mount Vernon, Montpellier, Monticello and the presidential museums of Truman, Hoover, Hayes, Reagan, Nixon and Carter. After these month-long trips, the only states left on his list to visit are North Dakota and Hawaii. With all his traveling, however, he recognizes that history can be found anywhere, even right at home.
“Every place has a history,” Greer says. “Each one is distinct and there are interesting things about any localities.”
You don’t have to go across the continent or across the ocean to discover history; it’s forming in every city and town and neighborhood. For Dr. Greer, every place has a unique history that not only explains the past, but also helps him understand the present.
“All the influences of family and community and socio-economic status … makes a person unique,” Greer says. “[And] it’s the same thing when one looks at a country or a civilization or a local culture or whatever, that each one has a lot of influences, and we look at the past to understand those influences. So that’s the practical side: to understand the present.”
His enjoyment of history also springs from reasons beyond practical understanding of the present.
“[History allows you to] go places and times in your mind that you can’t go otherwise…it is mind-expanding in a good way,” Greer says. “We learn from our own mistakes, but if we’re wise, we learn from other people’s mistakes too.”
Greer sees history not only a look back at past events and people, but as something that shapes the world today and offers vast possibilities for imagination. While many students drudge through history notes and study textbooks for exams, Greer tries to bring history to life and show how it is not only an academic subject; it influences each person individually and has a huge impact on life itself.
That is why he pours all his effort into teaching with creative style and passion to make it enjoyable for his students.
“I love all the political cartoons; he’s come up with a ton of them to put in his power points that I really like,” says junior teacher education major Katie Caldwell. “And I love all the little jokes he makes either in his power points or in the lectures. Some of them are just really funny.”
In addition to humor, Greer adds a personal touch to his lectures by occasionally showing family vacation photos from his trips across the country.
“It’s cool how much he’s traveled across the U.S. [His traveling photos] also tell the students and indicate his love for history,” Caldwell says. Greer makes his lectures interesting and lively to show his students that history is much more than a general education course.
His passion and caring nature shines through not only in his teaching style but also in his personal interactions with students.
“I was really surprised he remembered my name. I had never really talked to him, and I was surprised that when I did talk to him, he knew my name,” says freshman teacher education major Kristy Caldwell. “He seems to really genuinely love history.”
As chair of the history department, Greer strives to love his colleagues and share his passion in the workplace.
“He’s excellent with the other members of that department,” says Dr. John Stead, Vice President of Academic Affairs. “He’s really good at details and follow through…and he also does a really good job of using technology in his classes, a lot of cd’s and things that I think are very helpful…he’s a valuable colleague, incredibly loyal, never a problem. And he’s from West Virginia so he’s got that real nice demeanor about him, too.”
After faithfully sharing his passion for history with students at TMC since 1987, Greer looks forward to passing on his knowledge and love of history for many more years.
“I’m not planning to retire anytime soon,” he says.
As history continues to mold society, Greer continues to explore it. He knows it has a story to tell—a story about the past and a story to illuminate the present. He knows history is tangible … as tangible as a chunk of concrete in your hand.
By Katelyn Walter