Department alumnus Matthew L. Downs is carrying on the University’s tradition of teaching excellence and leadership at the University of Mobile, where he is Assistant Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Downs graduated from the University with his Ph.D. in History in 2010, after completing his Masters in 2004. Working with Dr. Kari Frederickson, he studied US and southern history, specifically focusing on the modernization of the South in the mid-twentieth century.
Downs says one of his favorite experiences as a graduate student at the University of Alabama was getting to work with the Teaching American History Program at local high schools. Downs says that the opportunity “really prepared me for what I do now, in a weird way.” At the University of Mobile, Downs is a teaching professor, meaning he is there primarily to teach and assist students, and getting to teach as a graduate student helped round out his education. Additionally, he says that he now knows what his students are coming to college knowing about history and what they are expecting from history classes. He also worked on the department’s graduate journal, the Southern Historian, and he will soon work as an editor for the state history journal, the Alabama Review. Working on the Southern Historian, he says, gave him insight “beyond the standard academic path into the business of selling, editing, and publishing journals.”
Dr. Downs’ role as chair isn’t just “boring admin stuff” — he helps both students and professors plan for upcoming classes and semesters. And while he spends most of his time in the classroom teaching, he researches as well. Downs is currently working on a study of Mobile’s economic growth during and following World War I.
His advice to history students is simple: “be prepared for what you’re doing.” “Be creative in how you think about how you use history,” Dr. Downs says. “There are lots of good things you can do with history.” He goes on to say that public history career paths can be “very valuable” when they “teach the public about the past and how to make sense of it.” Regardless of their path, Dr. Downs tells students not to get discouraged but to have resilience. “Be ready to fail and try again and again, and you will succeed.”