Faculty Friday: Robert Gudmestad

In a special weekly series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring a faculty member from one of our 13 departments. We asked questions about why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.  

Robert Gudmestad

Robert Gudmestad

Associate Professor, Department of History

1. What inspired your interest in history?

I study Southern U.S. History, mainly the Civil War. I first got interested in it when I was in elementary school and I found out that my birthday was really close to Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Even before that, though, my family visited Gettysburg when I was 5. I still have the musket ball my parents bought me as a souvenir. I keep it on my desk.

2. What did you want to be when you were little? When did you know you wanted to go into higher education/research?

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a football player like every other American boy in Minnesota. But when I realized that was not very likely, I started paying more attention to my history classes. I’d always liked history and my family vacations had always been to historic sites. We were the people reading every plaque in the museum. And I was good at school, so it just seemed natural to study history. But even when I graduated from college – from undergrad – I didn’t consider being a professor. Instead I became a special agent with U.S. Immigration Services. I interviewed people, investigated visas, all of it. (The job wasn’t as in the public eye then as it is now, though.) I used the same skills in criminal investigation as I did in my history classes. I had to collect evidence and write an argumentative case.

But I knew that job wasn’t for me. When I was thinking about what else I wanted to do, I realized that for the past three years – all the while I was a special agent – I had taken all of my vacations at historic sites. I enjoyed history, but at the time, I’d never heard about public history so I thought I had to be a teacher. It was a tough decision for me whether to teach high school or college. I’m not exactly sure why I chose college; maybe it was the challenge of graduate school rather than getting another undergraduate degree or the prestige I saw in being a professor.

3. How did you get to CSU?

I got my Ph.D at LSU and my first job Southern Baptist University in Missouri. Later, my family and I moved to Memphis, and I taught for several years at the University of Memphis. On a trip to visit family in Colorado, my father-in-law said I should get a job in Colorado and I thought, ‘That will never happen. They’ll never hire a Southern US Historian.’ The next year, CSU ran a search for a historian of the Civil War and U.S. South! Long story short, I got the job.

4. Which class is your favorite to teach and why?

It’s hard to say which class is my favorite to teach. That’s like asking me which of my kids I like more. I’m supposed to like all my classes equally. But I guess I’d have to say that I like my Civil War class. It overlaps with my research interests the most and it gets students from all majors. Lots of people are interested in the Civil War. We get to do “fun” activities. The students enjoy role-playing and reenacting famous debates.

5. What is one thing students would be surprised to learn about you?

What is one thing students might be surprised to learn about me? Well, both of my parents are only children. That means I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. It doesn’t really mean anything, except that family reunions are small.