Matthew Bowman

Associate professor of history

I was afraid the first time I taught. But I really enjoyed it. I found there was a performance aspect to it… a dynamism in the classroom where there’s this give and take that I found invigorating.

When the Associated Press has questions about the Mormon faith, it contacts Matthew Bowman.

Bowman became a source for the worldwide news organization after writing a book about Mormonism when Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012.

Bowman, who is Mormon, never planned to write a book about his faith. But in 2011, during Romney’s campaign, he received a call from an editor looking for someone to write about Mormonism, focusing on Romney’s faith.

After agreeing to write the book, Bowman was given only three months to finish it. While it wasn’t his first book to write, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith was the first to be published. Bowman was in the process of turning his dissertation about protestant fundamentalism and liberalism in the 20th Century into a book entitled The Urban Pulpit.

As an undergraduate, Bowman couldn’t decide if he wanted to major in history or English. He ended up majoring in both.

“I liked narrative, taking pieces of the past and putting them together to make stories,” he said. “I kept going back and forth between the two.”

When he entered graduate school, Bowman focused on history. “It felt more relevant in some ways than fiction did.”

Bowman chose Georgetown University to earn his Ph.D. so he could work with a professor who had just written a biography of William Jennings Bryan. While there, Bowman attended the Apprenticeship in Teaching program that helped shape how he thought about teaching.

“I pride myself on bringing energy into the classroom. My lectures are vigorous,” he said. Bowman shuns textbooks while emphasizing student participation.

“I feel like the purpose of teaching history is less to drive facts into their heads than it is to teach them what historians do,” he said. “Historians take documents, read and analyze them, and produce narratives. That’s a skill that can serve a student no matter what they are doing in life.

Bowman said that today, history is perceived in “much more cultural ways” and politics is the product of what many people experience in all aspects of their lives, including religion.

He sometimes shows episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek so students can see the ways in which these 50-year-old sitcoms reflect many of the political and social anxieties in America during the 1960s and 1970s.

“What I’m showing them are the ways in which all the things they are experiencing in their regular lives have connections to these great historical forces,” he said. “It might not be visible to them immediately, but they are there.”

Bowman said he would like to keep writing books. He’s currently under contract to produce Christian: The Politics of a Word in America.

He has also started working on a religious history of UFOs in the 20th Century.

“I’m interested in the role UFOs have played in popular art culture since World War II and how they have moved from an expression of the power of technology during the Cold War to an expression of suspicion of government and a culture of conspiracy.”

Social Sciences

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Degree and School:
Ph.D. in history, Georgetown University

Religious history
Cultural history
American progressive era

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