“I would come home from the biology lab and pick up a history book and start reading it because that was naturally what I wanted to do,” he said. “It seemed like the thing I ought to do with my life.”
He switched majors, and it’s proven a good fit. He has spent the past 21 years as a UCCS professor in the Department of History.
Harvey, 56, was named a distinguished professor Nov. 16 by the CU Board of Regents.
A campus reception is scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 27 in University Center 303. To register, visit here.
He joins six other UCCS faculty to ever earn the title. CU distinguished professors demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and outstanding service to the profession, the university and its affiliates.
Harvey is a researcher, writer and teacher of American history from the 16th century to the present. He’s the author/editor of 11 books and has written dozens of articles and book chapters on American religious history, history of the American South, and other related topics.
“The history he writes is not a remote academic exercise but a narrative that connects race and religion and in that way gets to the heart of American culture,” said Rob Sackett, UCCS history professor who helped nominate Harvey as distinguished.
“So many Americans identify themselves in religious terms. Racial conflict is a problem that just does not go away, as recent events make clear. What Paul Harvey does is join these issues and put them in historical perspective.”
Harvey credits UCCS for letting him thrive.
He’s always been encouraged to research what interests him and create the courses he wants to teach.
Harvey, who started the professional scholarly blog “Religion in American History” but no longer maintains it, specializes in religious history. But he doesn’t often teach it. He prefers classes that let him explore different areas of history because he loves to learn—he’s teaching himself Spanish just for fun.
He’s drawn to history because it doesn’t confine him to one subject. History is everywhere and in everything.
“I just wanted to have as much knowledge about the world as I could possibly get,” he said. “I get to be an economist when I’m studying something about economy in the past. I get to be a philosopher when I’m reading about how philosophical ideas get translated. I get to be a sociologist and a criminologist. History allows you to do what you want.”
All of his degrees are in history: a bachelor of arts in 1983 from Oklahoma Baptist University; a master of arts in 1985 from the University of California, Berkeley; and a doctor of philosophy in 1992 from UC Berkeley.
“I want students to engage history with all their senses”
Teaching history means he can talk about a wide range of topics, from historical novels to symphonies written during wartime to what kinds of tanks were used.
He uses various materials to connect students to the past, showing them how history incorporates all aspects of life, that it isn’t simply one event after another. He may use music or art. He brings in biscuits similar to the hardtack ones served to soldiers during the Civil War. He passes around Confederate currency when discussing hyperinflation during the Civil War.
“I want students to engage history with all their senses, beyond words on the text, to try to engage the past also by hearing, seeing and touching it, and then analyzing the historical meaning of what they’ve just encountered,” he said.
Tom Cutcher, a senior history major, commends Harvey’s creative ways of teaching and his willingness to help students.
“Never in my three courses did Dr. Harvey constrain my ideas or frame of thought. He would allow me to expand and build assignments that aligned with my interest,” Cutcher said. “When I presented solutions to questions that may not have been correct, he listened to me explain them and then he would guide me with questions to find the correct answer.”
“This is the first time I’m going to write a book about someone who I completely admire and find inspirational”
Harvey, who is on sabbatical until January, is preparing to write his first biography. The subject is Howard Thurman, an author, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader. He died in 1981.
“I’ve written all of these books about racism in the American religious past. This is the first time I’m going to write a book about someone who I completely admire and find inspirational,” he said. “It doesn’t mean he’s a perfect person. He’s got his flaws.”
It will be the first biography on Thurman, who wrote “Jesus and the Disinherited,” an influential book connecting Jesus to the civil rights struggles for poor and disenfranchised people. Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly carried the book in his coat pocket.
Harvey’s research and book on Thurman feed into his next project: writing a biography on King.
“It’s daunting because there are a million out there,” he said. “This is what historians do all the time. You go over things that many people have gone over, but the idea is you have something different to bring to the table.”
— Photos by Anslee Wolfe