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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

Curtis Johnson, One of the Mountís Best Professors!

Katelyn Phelan

(Nov, 2010) In the 40 plus classes I have taken thus far in my Mount career, I was fortunate enough to take a class with Dr. Curtis Johnson of the Mountís history department. The course I took with Dr. Johnson was "American Experience II," and it focused on American history beginning just after the Civil War all the way to recent times. The course met twice a week, for three hours each time. It began in July and ran for five weeks. Though most people dread summer classes, that summer was one of the best and most memorable summers Iíve had, largely due to the courses I took and the professors I had. Dr. Johnson is certainly one of the Mountís finest professors.

I liked "American Experience" with Dr. Johnson because the course was straightforward, and yet interesting and informative. We focused on the history of the United States, but supplemented it with literature and film from the historical periods we studied. Johnson clearly enjoyed being in the classroom teaching, and he obviously cared about his students both academically and personally. In class, Johnson seemed to be looking to learn more things where he could. When we learned about the Vietnam War in class he asked our Vietnamese student to help him with pronunciation, which he ultimately didnít get, but he still tried. He also has a great sense of humor and laughs easily, which is always nice in the classroom. Dr. Johnson is one of my favorite professors at the Mount because he is generally a friendly and cheerful person and he always has time to smile and to stop and say "hello."

In some ways, the Mount is lucky to have gotten Dr. Johnson. He hails from Minnesota, where he grew up and also got his Ph.D. So why did he leave Minnesota? "It was too cold," he said. "Every winter you knew there was going to be at least one day that was minus 40." So he decided to come to Maryland, where on a good day in August the weather is 85 degrees with 85% humidity. Johnson based his decision to come to the Mount largely on the attractive job offer he received.

Though Johnson isnít Catholic, he liked the Mount because it was a religious school. "I knew people would take religious ideas seriously here, and that was important to me," Johnson said. His Ph.D. dissertation, now a published book, deals with a religious topic: Islands of Holiness: Rural Religion in Upstate New York, 1790-1860. This book describes how republican ideas transformed and modernized evangelical religion in upstate New York. Dr. Johnsonís second book, Redeeming America: Evangelicals and the Road to the Civil War, discusses how the beliefs and attitudes of different evangelical groups affected the various ways they tried to reform America in the years prior to and leading up to the Civil War.

Johnson is currently working on a third book, also focused on religion. He is researching how Baptist women in New York gained power in their churches. He is writing the book as an historical account of New York women from 1795 to 1922 but also means for it to be a blueprint for how women today can do the same thing.

Johnson is not just interested in religious topics. Next semester heís teaching a course called "Manhood in America." When I asked him what the course would focus on he laughed and said, "For the first five minutes we all lift weights." Really, there is no weight lifting involved, and women are certainly welcome to take the course. The focus is on what it means to be a man. "Women," Johnson said, "are good at talking about what it means to be a woman. Men are not." This course will examine how manhood has evolved from colonial times to the present. "Manhood is not just about being strong and silent. This course aims to explore the roles men do have and to provide some time for reflection on the topic--what manhood means for our society and what it means personally for the students." "Manhood in America" was actually the Mountís first course in the gender studies program, a program which has evolved over the years into a minor.

Johnson noted the many other changes the Mount has gone through over his time here. One improvement he remarked upon was the appearance of the campus, which has "greatly improved in the past 25 years," he said. Lately the dorms have been upgraded, with renovations to the Terrace and the construction of Bicentennial Hall. Bradley, the administrative building, and the Fine Arts building have also benefitted from renovations. In the years that Johnson has been here, some important buildings have been constructed, like Knott Auditorium, which is used for speakers and other large events. Memorial Gym was the functional athletic building when Johnson first arrived, but now students and faculty use the AARC, the relatively new gym facility. Itís a good thing we built a new gym, because Johnson noted that one of the biggest changes for the Mount in the past 25 years has been athletics.

When Johnson first arrived, the Mount was Division II, which was not good for sports like basketball, but excellent for sports like Track and Field. "In the 80s," Johnson said, "we had fantastic athletes from all over the world." Peter Rono, from Kenya, attended the Mount while training for and participating in the 1988 Summer Olympics. Rono ran the 1500-meter race, and won the gold. Some of these runners from other countries had trouble with English, so their schoolwork suffered. "The great thing about Division II, for them, was that the academic standards were less rigorous, so they could try their best in school, but not be penalized in Track and Field," Johnson explained. Now, as a Division I school, world-class runners tend to be attracted to larger Division I schools universities, so the Mount doesnít get them anymore. Basketball, though, has benefitted from being in Division I. "We play better known schools now, which gathers a lot more attention than basketball ever got playing East Texas State," Johnson laughed. Just a few years ago, the Mountís basketball even made it into the NCAA tournament and faced North Carolina.

So how has Johnsonís original reason for coming to the Mount, the taking of religious ideas seriously, held up the past 25 years? He has not been disappointed. He says he loves the "spiritual and moral" aspect of the school, faculty, and students. And, actually, he believes that students at the Mount have become more serious about their faith as the years have gone on, a trend we can only hope will continue.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan