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C-SPAN descends upon Metro State
A five-person film crew toting production equipment arrived shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Metropolitan State University.
Was it a possible celebrity sighting? How about an unfortunate emergency on campus?
No, simply a national spotlight shining upon history professor Doug Rossinow.
The men wielding cameras, lights and microphones stopped by Room 308 in the university’s Library and Learning Center from C-SPAN to film Rossinow for international broadcast.
Participation in a 2011 panel at the annual American Historical Association meetings introduced Rossinow to the C-SPAN team.
“I organized a panel about the 1980s as history, in which papers, including my own, were presented,” Rossinow said. “A C-SPAN crew was at the conference and chose to attend the panel. I am guessing this is how my name was added to their list.”
The television network sought experienced historians to share their knowledge with the viewing public.
With a slight wit and air of humor to his delivery, Rossinow, an expert especially interested in 1980s history, was the perfect choice.
C-SPAN contacted Rossinow early in the current academic year inquiring about the classes he was teaching and topics that viewers might find interesting.
“I talked to this fellow, Russell Logan, again from C-SPAN when the semester started, and he said they had a lot of programming about Watergate, but not really much about Iran-Contra (affair). So that ended up being the choice,” said Rossinow.
Elementary and secondary history lessons for many present-day adults did not delve into the “recent” events of the 1980s.
History is, after all, a continually evolving species; today is the past of tomorrow.
Recognizing the rather infrequent opportunity to analytically explore events through which a person themselves has lived, Rossinow and C-SPAN decided upon the poignant Iran-Contra scandal as the best topic of production.
“Anyone younger than 35 really won’t remember Iran-Contra as it is just now getting worked into the historical narrative,” said Rossinow. “If you’re a certain age, like I am in my 40s, you remember it. The viewers of C-SPAN probably tend to be on the older side who definitely will remember the period.”
Rossinow added that he began teaching approximately 20 years ago when people were very interested in bringing the 1960s into the field of history. Two decades later, the 1980s are now similarly being built into the systematic understanding of America’s past.
“It is fresh ground. We’re moving to not just think of it as recent times and journalism,” Rossinow said.
Of course, current interest in the Middle East due to the ongoing War in Afghanistan and the earlier Iraq War didn’t hurt when selecting a relevant topic either.
A historian such as Rossinow trained at Harvard and John Hopkins University rarely, if ever, downplays the importance of knowledge about the past.
Other less historically inclined individuals may immediately seek to understand the relevance of presented information to their life in society today. They wonder why information about the Iran-Contra scandal should matters to them.
“There are some people who would like us to go to war with Iran today, so that makes it [Iran-Contra] somewhat pertinent,” said Rossinow. “Even though U.S. relations with Central America are not currently in the headlines, we still have very important dealings throughout Latin America, including some military involvements in South America, particularly in Colombia.”
Rossinow links the current era and the 1980s through the themes of insurgency and counterinsurgency.
Related to the historical involvement of the U.S. in Central and Latin America, these military topics have been of great interest in the later years of the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Rossinow seeks to appease both the hungry history buff and the present-minded working adult fulfilling a distribution requirement. An in-depth overview is always provided, yet he doesn’t forget tying material into the impacting current affairs of today.
Flipping channels, both types of person may even happen upon his C-SPAN broadcast.
“He is a very interesting professor,” said student Sandy Jorgensen-Wood, a history major. “The classes are always engaging, and I learn a great deal of information about events previously unexplored in my history education.”
Class participants were slightly surprised to see their typically more casual professor in a spiffy sports jacket for the day of filming. “Ooohs” and “wows” were heard upon their entrance to the room.
The approximately 25 students in Rossinow’s class completed their midterm examination a session prior to the filming day.
Rossinow decided upon waiting until after the Tuesday class to distribute the results for one specific reason.
“I’ll hand out the graded midterms outside in the hallway after the class. I wouldn’t want anyone frowning on camera. That wouldn’t be appealing or pleasant, right?” said Rossinow laughingly to students in the “From Reagan to Obama: America Since 1980” course. “
His retort was met by slight groans from the class likely worrying about the grade they earned.
Classes at Metropolitan State are designed for the working adult. Rossinow teaches students one day per week, Tuesdays, from 1 p.m. until 4:20 p.m. in the afternoon.
Only wanting a crisp two-hour segment for their broadcast, class was released early at 3 p.m. on filming day, something about which students were not too sad.
“Early releases are always nice,” said Jorgensen-Wood. “I have so much to do in and out of school!”
The instructor receiving instruction from C-SPAN, crew members requested Rossinow to stay in a small, approximately 5-foot area ideal for filming.
“It did present a challenge as I typically walk around in the classroom,” Rossinow said. “I really began to understand what it is like for a dog confined by an invisible fence.”
An excellent university
Whereas Rossinow, admittedly, is not a regular viewer of C-SPAN (he does not have cable), something he is passionate about is education at Metropolitan State University.
“It is a great place to teach, and it is a great place to learn. Our students get the chance to work with faculty members in close contact and in a very interactive way,” Rossinow said. “We offer many elements of the liberal arts college experience to students in Minnesota who are attending a low-cost public university. I think that is pretty unusual.”
There are approximately 130 students majoring in the liberal arts discipline of history at Metro State.
Rossinow, who began teaching at the college in 1997, overall enjoyed the filming experience with C-SPAN.
“It is always nice to reach a broad audience, even though it makes you cringe to see and hear yourself on camera,” Rossinow said. “It can be quite painful. But it is worth it to do as much history education and as broadly as possible.”
A broadcast time has not yet been determined for Rossinow’s C-SPAN American history lecture.
Rebecca Rowe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651- 748-7816.